Life insurance companies determine policy rates for applicants based on a variety of health and lifestyle factors. Unless they are buying no exam life insurance, most applicants take a health exam that looks at factors like body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and cholesterol. The rate that you'll pay will also be impacted by your preexisting health conditions, family history, and tobacco use. All of these factors are evaluated according to industry standards to place you into a life insurance rate class, which determines how high your monthly premiums will be.
Read on to find out more about the most common rate classes, how lifestyle factors affect premiums, and how to improve your habits to receive a better classification.
When you apply for a policy, your insurance company will evaluate the state of your health to determine their risk in providing you with coverage. This process is known as medical underwriting. Each company has its own underwriting process, but most companies require an application that will be cross-checked with sources like the Medical Information Bureau. After you submit your application, your insurance company will usually have you complete a comprehensive medical exam.
These steps place you into a life insurance rate class, which determines what policy you'll be offered and what monthly rate you'll pay.
While rate classes vary between companies, you can usually expect to be offered one of the following classes:
You might also see additional classes, including ones for substandard risk levels (rated) or special categories for smokers (preferred Tobacco, Standard Tobacco).
Preferred Plus is the highest rate class an applicant can be offered. You might see other names for this class, like Preferred Elite, Preferred Select, or Super Preferred. This class is reserved for applicants in exceptionally good health—usually the healthiest 5-8% of the population—and offers the lowest monthly rates. Preferred Plus policyholders generally have exceptional blood pressure and cholesterol readings, no family history of serious health issues, and are within 25 to 30 pounds of their ideal body weight.
Applicants with well-controlled health factors or minor family history will be offered the second-best life insurance rate class, Preferred. Typically, insurers look for very good blood pressure and cholesterol readings, no family history of serious health issues before the age of 60 in parents or siblings, and no history of smoking within the past two years. If you have a well-controlled mental health condition like anxiety or depression, you may also be placed in this rate class instead of Preferred Plus.
Applicants who receive a Standard Plus rate class offer are in above-average health and have minor weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, or family history issues. This class is most often given to applicants with health issues that are being controlled with medication, such as diabetes. While cigar, e-cigarette, and chewing tobacco users can qualify for this rate class, most companies look for applicants who have not smoked cigarettes within the past year.
Standard is the lowest of the four major rate classes, but you can still receive a good policy offer if you fall into this class. Life insurance companies offer this rate to applicants with average blood pressure and cholesterol readings, moderate weight issues, or a parent or sibling who's died before the age of 60 due to health factors. Though you'll see higher monthly premium rates, what's important is that you'll still be able to get insured.
The most important factors that affect your life insurance rate class are your medical exam results, your personal and family medical history, and your history of tobacco and drug use. Lifestyle factors may also affect your classification, including your history of felony convictions, your driving records, and your participation in extreme hobbies like skydiving. In general, companies are looking to paint a complete picture of your health and habits to determine how likely it is they'll need to pay out a claim within your policy term.
If you're a smoker, your life insurance company will usually place you into a sub-class because of your increased health risks. These categories will typically have names like Preferred Smoker or Standard Smoker and will affect your monthly rates by as much as 50%, even if you use smokeless tobacco forms like e-cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Insurance companies may also place marijuana smokers into these categories, regardless of legality in your state. Your blood work for your medical exam will show if you've smoked recently, so it's important to be honest on your application.
Even though quitting smoking can qualify you for a better rate class, ex-smokers can still see increases to their premiums because of their prior habits. You may be asked to undergo an observation period to monitor your smoking habits. Keep in mind it may take up to three years for this lifestyle change to be reflected in your premium rate.
Though monthly premium rates vary between companies, your premium price will usually be determined by which class you fall into. A young, healthy applicant who falls into the Preferred Plus category with no history of smoking could pay as little as $25 per month, while a smoker who falls into the Standard category could see rates as high as $300 per month.
Improvements to your overall health will help improve the life insurance rate classification you're offered when you apply for a policy. In general, steps like quitting smoking, losing weight, controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, and visiting your doctor on a regular basis will help you qualify for a better rate class. Even if you have chronic illnesses, being able to show your insurance company that you're managing your conditions can have a favorable impact on your rate class.
Younger applicants generally receive better premium offers than older applicants, so you can save money by applying for a policy sooner rather than later. As a general rule, rates increase by an average of 8-10% with each year you age. If you receive a lower rate class offer from one company, you may have to wait a period of time to be reconsidered for a better class, so you'll want to factor this in when you're deciding when to apply for life insurance.
Keep in mind when you're shopping for a life insurance policy that many factors will affect the rate class you're offered, including factors out of your control like family history. Even though you can't control every factor that will affect your premiums, you can take positive steps to improve your health and your rate class, including lifestyle habits like quitting smoking. To get an idea of what rate class you might fall into and what you might expect to pay for life insurance, check out our free tool to compare potential rates from trusted life insurance companies.