Insurance companies keep tabs on you, and it is important that you keep tabs on them. If you see your insurance company in the news, be sure to find out why. It's important not only to concentrate on the policy you have, but also the company that provides it. The strength and stability of the company are important factors. To evaluate a company, you can use different tools offered by financial rating firms, industry associations like the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association (IMSA), or even your own state's insurance department.
What to look for
When you evaluate a life insurance company, remember these key points:
1. State licensing and complaints
Make sure the company is legally licensed to provide insurance in your city and state. You can check the Company's website for its license status or contact your state's insurance department to verify this information.
Each state has a different way of dealing with insurance companies and with complaints consumers file against them. Many compile a complaint report every year by tallying the total number of complaints and ranking them in relation to each company's market share. If you notice that many policyholders filed complaints against a certain life insurance company, you can check with your state insurance department to see why. Complaints can range from minor, such as a bad experience with an agent, to something more serious, like misrepresentation of a policy or problems with a claim. Keep in mind that a complaint may only prove that a customer was unhappy, not that the company did something wrong.
2. Financial strength ratings
Review your life insurance company's financial strength and stability ratings. Check with major rating companies, but remember that not all life insurance companies are rated by every service. There are five different ratings firms that issue financial strength ratings for insurance companies. They are Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings, A.M. Best, Moody's Investors Service, and TheStreet.com Ratings (formerly Weiss Ratings).
When a life insurance company is rated, the rating gauges its probable financial future. For example, if it receives a low rating, it generally means the company doesn't have many assets and/or financial reserves available. This could affect payment of claims or the life of the company. A financially troubled company could have trouble paying claims, or be sold or closed. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your life insurance company's ratings, because they can fluctuate at any time due to any number of circumstances. The typical fluctuations occur from bad financial decisions and investments, the loss of money, mergers, and even the news of a possible merger.
3. "Seal of Approval"
Throughout their history, life insurance industry officials have received great scrutiny from the press. As a way of strengthening public trust and support, a seal of approval called the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association (IMSA) designation was created.
IMSA membership shows that a company has passed a tough review of its practices and ethics. The assessment focuses mainly on marketing, sales, and customer service. To continue membership, a company must complete this test every three years. It should be noted that IMSA membership is a plus, not a reason to ignore other factors when considering a life insurance company.
Do you have any questions or comments? Please let us know.
Originally posted September 20, 2004.
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