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Ask the Life Insurance Expert

I quit smoking last month. Can I get a nonsmoker's rate for life insurance?

Congratulations on kicking the habit. Unfortunately you won't qualify as a nonsmoker yet. Most life insurance companies require you to refrain from using tobacco for at least a year before they offer you a nonsmoker's rate.

Life insurance companies charge higher rates for smokers than nonsmokers because smokers are likely to die at earlier ages. Periodically the Society of Actuaries conducts a study looking at mortality rates of people who purchase individual life insurance policies. According to the latest study in 2010, the expected age of death differs by two to six years, depending on gender and the person's current age.

A 30-year-old woman who smokes, for instance, has a life expectancy of 78.1 years, versus 84.5 years for a woman the same age who doesn't smoke. A 50-year-old male smoker has a life expectancy of 76.5 years, compared to 82.9 years for a 50-year-old male nonsmoker.

The good news is when you stop smoking, your life expectancy goes up, and after about a year it matches that of other nonsmokers.

You don't have to put off a decision to get life insurance quotes just because you're still technically considered a smoker. You can buy a policy now and after enough time has passed, apply for a nonsmoker policy.

Meanwhile, keep in mind insurers differ in how they define smokers. Some allow an occasional cigar to celebrate; others require you use no nicotine, period. They also vary in how many months they require you to be nicotine-free before you qualify as a nonsmoker.

For more, see How many years of your life will you lose to smoking?

Last updated: Sep. 13, 2011