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What Are Life Insurance Underwriting Guidelines?

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Underwriting guidelines help life insurance companies to assess risk, determine approval, and set rates for applicants.

When you apply for life insurance, the company will collect data on you, using the information to evaluate your application.

While rates vary from company to company, most carriers use the same general guidelines for underwriting.

Knowing what factors life insurance companies consider can prepare you for the application process and help you to get the coverage you need at the lowest price.

What Are the Underwriting Guidelines for Life Insurance?

During the underwriting process, the life insurance company will take a close look at the responses in your application and additional records to gauge the level of risk you pose.

Underwriting guidelines are the set of rules insurers use to decide whether or not to offer you a policy, and at what rate.

Underwriters, the individuals who asses your application, rely on the guidelines below:

  • Age: Life insurance premiums climb with age, as does access to coverage. The older you get, the higher your chances of dying are.
  • Sex: Because women statistically have a longer life expectancy than men, their life insurance premiums tend to be lower.
  • Health: Underwriters will look at your weight, health conditions, and prescriptions, potentially requiring a medical exam.
  • Family health history: Your immediate family’s history with conditions like heart disease and diabetes will also factor into the underwriting process.
  • Job: If your occupation puts you at a higher risk of dying, you could have limited access to coverage or be assigned higher rates.
  • Hobbies: Underwriters will also pay special attention to risky hobbies like skydiving or motorcycle racing to determine your eligibility and rates.
  • Tobacco use: Tobacco use has a significant impact on life expectancy, and consequently, life insurance rates.
  • Driving record: If you have a tendency to speed, drive recklessly, or have a DUI, it could lead to higher rates or denial in some cases.
  • Travel: In most cases, your travel plans won’t impact underwriting; however, if you travel to dangerous areas, it could affect your coverage and rates.

What Is the Underwriting Process?

During the underwriting process, both you and the life insurance company will have a set of tasks to complete.

4 to 6 weeks

From start to finish, the underwriting process usually takes 4 to 6 weeks, with some no exam carriers offering instant coverage when you apply.

Here’s what the process typically looks like.


The first step in the underwriting process is completing the application.

While some companies require you to work with an agent, others allow you to apply completely online.

First and foremost, the application will ask personal questions involving your health and lifestyle to assess your risk level.

It will also include logistical policy questions regarding your:

  • Policy amount and features
  • Beneficiaries
  • Billing preferences
  • Additional life insurance policies

The application will also require your signature, which indicates the information you provided is accurate and allows the insurance company to access your records to verify your responses.

Some life insurance providers also require you to schedule a personal history phone interview with one of their representatives to dig deeper into your responses.

Medical Exam

Several life insurance companies allow you to secure coverage without undergoing a medical exam, relying on your application and medical records to set your rates.

If you’re healthy, these policies may offer high face amounts at competitive rates with accelerated underwriting.

However, traditional life insurance policies require a medical exam.

The paramedical exam is free, and the medical technician can complete the assessment at your home or workplace.

A life insurance paramedical exam usually involves:

  • Measuring height and weight
  • Checking pulse and blood pressure
  • Blood test
  • Urine test

Depending on your age, family history, and health, you could also be asked to undergo an EKG or stress test.

Additional Records

Whether you apply for medically underwritten life insurance or a no exam policy, the life insurance company will likely access your records to aid their underwriting decision.

Here are some of the records the underwriters may obtain:

  1. MIB review: The Medical Information Bureau lists all your recent life insurance applications, the information you disclosed in them, and paramedical exam results.
  2. Prescription record: Underwriters could also access your prescription records, considering all the medications you’ve been prescribed in the last 5-7 years.
  3. Attending physician statement: If your medical exam raises any concerns, underwriters may request information on your condition from your doctor.
  4. Motor vehicle report: Underwriters are on the lookout for dangerous driving incidents in the last 5 to 7 years when they access your MVR.
  5. Credit report: Underwriters may also run a soft inquiry on your credit report, primarily to check for bankruptcy and late payments.
  6. Electronic Inspection Report: A Life EIR gives underwriters access to your criminal background and other public records, which can impact your eligibility.


Once the life insurance company has all the info it needs, they will use the data to assign you to a risk category, which determines what you’ll pay for your policy.

While some companies use different terminology, most rely on the four classifications below:

  • Preferred Plus: The best rates go to individuals with excellent health, a clean family health history, and a good height/weight ratio.
  • Preferred: Applicants with minor well-managed conditions who are otherwise in great health can qualify for preferred rates.
  • Standard Plus: You may find yourself in this category if you’re in good health but have a worrisome family history and don’t fall into the ideal height/weight ratio.
  • Standard: Issues in your family history prior to age 60, serious health problems, and an unhealthy height/weight ratio could earn you a standard rating.

If you fall into the substandard category, a table rating will be used to determine how much you will pay for coverage.

You could also have to pay a flat extra fee per $1,000 of coverage for risky jobs or hobbies.

How to Get Approved with the Best Rates

Don’t be discouraged if your life insurance application was denied in the past or you were placed in a poor rating class.

In light of the underwriting guidelines above, there are steps you can take now to better your chances of getting approved with the best rates possible.

  1. Compare multiple providers: While one company might treat marijuana users as smokers, another could offer them preferred rates. It’s important to do your research and get quotes from multiple providers.
  2. Speak with an agent: Independent agents are experts on underwriting guidelines and may be able to match you with a company that’s lenient towards your condition.
  3. Get fit: Eating healthy, getting active, and losing weight can drastically improve your health and lower your life insurance rates.
  4. Stop smoking: Tobacco use is detrimental to your health, life expectancy, and access to affordable life insurance.
  5. Be safer: If risky behaviors are limiting your access to great rates, consider making some lifestyle changes.
  6. Manage conditions: Health conditions don’t always equal higher rates. Go to the doctor, take your medications, and do what you can to regulate your condition.
  7. Consider alternatives: If your age or health prohibit you from getting a traditional policy, there are alternative policies that can still provide some level of coverage.


Jason Fisher

Jason Fisher is the founder and CEO of, LLC. and a multi-state licensed life insurance agent who has helped over a million Americans seek out affordable coverage, compare quotes, or get their family and businesses covered.

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