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To get life insurance coverage, you first have to go through the underwriting process, or the application process. Insurers use this process to determine your health classification, which is how likely you are to die at a certain age. 

If you have a serious medical condition or have risky hobbies, you’re more likely to get a lower health classification. The lower your health class, the more you’ll pay for life insurance.

Health classifications generally go from healthiest to least healthy:

  • Preferred Plus
  • Preferred
  • Standard Plus
  • Standard

Some applicants may receive a Substandard rating, which is also called a table rating. Premiums are exceptionally high for people who receive a table rating.

Understanding the different health classifications

The health classification you fall into is determined by many factors: your health, family background, lifestyle choices and even your gender. All of those together determine which category you fall in, and similarly, how much you pay for coverage.

  • Preferred Plus: This is the best health class available and means you will pay the best price for coverage. Preferred Plus is usually available to applicants in great health with no lifestyle risks. 
  • Preferred: People who get a Preferred health classification are still in good health and pay slightly less than those with Preferred Plus. A few minor health issues can lead to a Preferred classification. 
  • Standard Plus: People who are in average health will receive a Standard Plus health classification. While rates may be above average, they will still be affordable.
  • Standard: This is the lowest health classification. People who receive a Standard health class are in poor health or have a disproportionate height-to-weight ratio. 

If you’re in poor health or have experienced a major medical emergency, you might receive a table rating. You can receive a table rating from A to J. With table rating A being the best rating, and table rating J being the worst. Anyone with a table rating will pay exponentially more for life insurance, but if you get a table rating J, the cost will be unaffordable. 

How insurers determine your life insurance health classification

While your medical history has a big impact on your life insurance premiums, insurers view your application comprehensively. Factors that influence your rates include:

  • Your health: People in good health get a better health classification than people in poor health. Additionally, medical conditions like cancer can disqualify you from getting coverage.
  • Your smoker status: Smokers pay a lot more than non-smokers for coverage. 
  • Your family’s medical history: If your family’s medical history shows conditions that can be genetically passed down, you may receive a lower health classification. 
  • Your lifestyle choices: If you participate in a risky hobby or have a risky job, such as flying planes, you may receive a lower health classification. 
  • Your public records: If you have a felony on your record or a poor motor vehicle report (MVR), insurers will charge you more. 

How to get the best life insurance rates

  • Apply ASAP: Life insurance rates increase every year you age, so it’s better to buy coverage the moment you realize you need it. 
  • Get healthy: If you can demonstrate that you’ve improved your health in a year or two, your insurer may offer you better rates. 
  • Stop smoking: Smokers always pay more than non-smokers. After a few years of non-smoking, you can apply for a better health classification. 
  • Shop around: Some insurance companies better rates to people with certain health conditions than others, so you should compare quotes from multiple insurers. 

The life insurance health classification you receive determines how much you pay for coverage. And while some factors that determine your health class are out of your control, others aren’t. For the best possible rates, avoid smoking tobacco and maintain a healthy height-to-weight ratio. 

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Nupur Gambhir
Managing Editor


Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.