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To get life insurance, you have to go through the underwriting process — or more simply put, the application process. This process is how insurers decide how much you are going to pay for life insurance premiums and can take a few weeks to a few months. During the underwriting process, insurers gauge your risk of dying. The higher the likelihood that you will die while the policy is active, the more you will pay for your life insurance premiums. 


For that reason, applicants who are older, in poor health, or have risky lifestyle choices (like flying a plane, for example) pay higher premiums for life insurance.

Read on to learn what the underwriting process is and how it can affect your life insurance premiums.

How the underwriting process works

For a traditional life insurance policy, the underwriting process comprises of a few key steps:

  1. Online application: First, fill out the application with your personal details to get an initial quote.
  2. Phone interview with an agent: After you fill out your application, a life insurance agent will conduct a phone interview to dive deeper into your personal history. On this call, they’ll also set up your medical exam.
  3. MIB check: While you are undergoing the phone interview, the insurer will review your MIB records. The MIB, which stands for the Medical Information Bureau, is a database that stores your personal information. If you lied about anything on the online application or in the phone interview, this is where insurers would find out.
  4. Medical exam: The medical exam is similar to a standard physical, where the insurer will take blood and urine samples to test for potential health risks. This test also tests for drug use and your smoking status.
  5. Underwriter analyzes results: Once the underwriter has collected all of the above information, they will use it to determine your risk of dying while you have the policy. If your health or lifestyle show that you’ll die sooner, then you’ll pay more. The underwriter may also look at your motor vehicle report (MVR) or ask for an attending physician’s statement (APS) to explain any confusing results.
  6. Receive policy offer: After analyzing your results, the insurance company will offer you a policy at a rate determined by your risk of dying. If you approve of the terms, you will need to sign the policy and pay your first premium to activate coverage.

Factors that affect your rates during the underwriting process

Underwriters look at a multitude of factors when determining your rates. Essentially, a combination of these factors determines the health classification you receive, which determines how much you pay for coverage. Some are in your control, while others are not. 

  • Age: The older you are, the more expensive life insurance is. 
  • Health: Your health has a big impact on your rates. The better your health, the less you will pay for coverage. If you have any health conditions, you will likely pay more. 
  • Criminal history: If you have a felony on your record, you won’t be able to get life insurance coverage. However, misdemeanors are not considered.
  • Driving record: If your motor vehicle record shows a history of consistent driving incidents, such as accidents, tickets or a DUI, your rates will be higher. 
  • Gender: Men pay more than women because data shows that women tend to live longer.
  • Lifestyle choices: Hobbies or occupations that insurance companies deem as risky, such as skydiving or flying a plane, might increase your rates. Alternatively, insurers may provide exclusions where the death benefit won’t be paid out if you die participating in one of these activities. 
  • Your financial status: You can’t just get any amount of coverage. You will need to show the underwriter financial justification for the amount of coverage you are buying.
  • Smoking status: Smokers pay much more than non-smokers for coverage.

How to shorten the underwriting process

Not willing to wait the months it can take to get life insurance coverage? You may not have to.

Some people may be able to get a shortened underwriting process through no-medical-exam life insurance. These policies offer the same traditional coverage, but don’t include the physical exam, which shortens the underwriting process. Some policies even offer coverage immediately and rely on previous labs and medical records to vet applications.

Check with an insurance broker or agent to see if you’re eligible for no-medical-exam life insurance.

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Nupur Gambhir
Managing Editor

 
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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.

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