Life Insurance 101: Your Complete Guide

We wrote our Life Insurance 101 guides to help savvy consumers better understand the life insurance process!

After all, if you haven’t been through underwriting before, it can be intimidating and confusing.

With RiskQuoter, you’ll know exactly what to expect before you apply.

Life Insurance 101 Overview

You made a great decision. You know you need life insurance, but you want to get it right.

The first thing to do is ask yourself, How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

After you’ve read the above, how long do you need life insurance?

And while most of our clients choose term life insurance, there are other types of life insurance, including universal and whole life policies.

And while term lengths run from 1 – 40 years, statistics show that a 20-year term is the most common duration purchased.

You may also have some life insurance riders, such as spouse riders, child riders, or accidental death.

How Does Life Insurance Underwriting Work?

Underwriting evaluates your medical history, personal background, height, and weight.

In addition, the other factors below are used to determine the available life insurance underwriting classes.

Current Health

How’s your current health?

With some life insurers, you may qualify for accelerated underwriting or no exam policies, while other companies may require you to take a paramedical exam.

We also have several life insurers that offer $500k life insurance – no medical exam required, and others that may offer $1 million or greater.

With accelerated underwriting, life insurers review your application, credit history, prescription databases, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), and motor vehicle records.

Some companies have cognitive testing as part of underwriting if you are a senior.

Life Insurance Underwriting Continued

If you are in good overall health, you may get approved quickly with no further exams, etc.

Medical History

As part of the underwriting process, underwriters want to know about any medical conditions you’ve had.

Underwriting requires details about your history before approving if you’ve had a high-risk medical condition.

High-risk health conditions include:

  • Cancer History
  • Diabetes and Endocrine Disorders
  • Heart Conditions
  • HIV Positive
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Mental Health
  • Prostate Disorders
  • Respiratory
  • Brain Disorders
  • Other Medical

Do you use any tobacco products?

While cigarettes get smoker rates, the following may qualify for non-tobacco rates with the right companies.

Insurers will get copies of your records from your doctors or use Human API to obtain records electronically.

If you’ve been denied life insurance previously, let us know. Many times, it’s just a matter of getting to the right company to get approved.

Other Factors Affecting Your Life Insurance Rates

Family Medical History

You may not know that life insurers consider your parents’ and siblings’ medical history when underwriting you.

Our guide – Don’t Let Family History Ruin Your Life Insurance Rate! Shows you what to look out for.


Most occupations do not have a problem with underwriting.

Commercial divers, professional athletes, marijuana workers, and miners may require an additional expense called a flat-extra, but others, like police, fire, etc., typically do not.

Income and Financials

Life insurance carriers want to ensure the amount of coverage you seek is justifiable.

Underwriters may ask about the following:

  • Annual Income
  • Household Income
  • Unearned Income
  • Net worth
  • Credit History

Underwriting may request a copy of the loan agreement if the coverage is for your business SBA loan. After the policy is active, the lender will want a collateral assignment on your policy.

A survivorship life insurance policy is an excellent option for estate planning needs.

For unique situations when you need more life insurance than would typically be expected, a good cover helps.

An example of this might life insurance in divorce settlements if the amount of coverage sought seems excessive.

Bankruptcy may have to wait until it is discharged.

Ownership and Beneficiaries

As part of underwriting, you will indicate who the owner and beneficiary of the life insurance policy will be.

It’s an important decision, so take a few minutes to read about life insurance beneficiaries.



Life insurance companies may charge you more if you participate in any of the following activities:

  • Scuba Diving
  • Rock or mountain climbing
  • Skydiving
  • Motorized racing
  • Private Pilots

Some companies will allow an aviation exclusion rider for private aviation.

Commercial airline pilots are not affected unless they also participate in private aviation.

Do you travel internationally?

Countries on the U.S. State Department travel warnings site may result in additional premiums…

Or postpone life insurance until your return.

Driving Record

Life insurers use a points system to determine if your motor vehicle record will negatively affect you.

A single violation, such as a speeding ticket, is usually a non-factor.

Multiple moving violations within a 2-3 year period of time may result in higher premiums.

Reckless driving and DUIs typically follow criminal rules.

Criminal History

The most common history we see is for drunk driving arrests.

Most rates are based on the time since your DUI arrest and court outcome.

The availability of life insurance depends on the crimes committed, your convictions, and your current status.

Underwriting FAQ

The following are the most common questions we receive.

How long does life insurance underwriting take?

Depending on the various types of underwriting available, it may take several days to a few months. It depends on the policy type, chosen insurance company, medical history, etc.

What are life insurance underwriting guidelines?

Each life insurer has general life guidelines to determine your eligibility and price for life insurance.

What does fully underwritten life insurance mean?

Fully underwritten life insurance requires the most comprehensive review compared to other underwriting types mentioned later.

What is no medical life insurance underwriting?

No medical life insurance is an excellent option if you are in good health, like convenience, do not like paramed exams, and are in a hurry to complete your life insurance.

What is guaranteed issue life insurance underwriting?

With guaranteed issue life insurance, few, if any, questions are asked. Any health questions are mainly asked to determine if you will receive a level or graded death benefit.

Underwriting Decisions

After reviewing your file, the underwriter determines your eligibility for life insurance and the rate it offers.

Approved As Applied – You received the price you were expecting.

Approved Other Than As You Applied (AOTA) – You may receive approval at a more or less favorable rate class.

Postponed – If you were recently diagnosed or just completed treatment, you may be postponed for some time.

Denied – The life insurance company may reject you. When this happens, we’ll discuss the next steps.

Are Life Insurance Offers Negotiable?

Yes and No.

If a health issue is involved and you receive a table-rated offer, we should discuss it.

Sometimes, we can get the company to reduce or eliminate the rating.

If not, we can move to another company for a better rate.

We can point out other positive factors to underwriting as that will help.

If you are applying for coverage through niche programs like Costco Life or AICPA life insurance, it’s hard to negotiate a better deal.

The same goes for group life insurance.

Will you qualify for the preferred best rates?

Remember that 20% of all applicants qualify for the preferred best life insurance rates.

If you meet the criteria, you’ll get the rate.

Will my upcoming birthday affect my rate?

Most life insurers consider you to be the next age once you are within six months of your next birthday.

Companies allow you to “backdate” your policy for the younger age, but…

You’ll need to pay premiums from the backdate forward.

Do medications affect life insurance rates?

It depends on the medication and the control of the medical condition.

Many companies still allow their best rates if you take blood pressure or cholesterol medication.

Final Words

The best way to get started is to submit your quote request today.

We’ll provide accurate quotes from the best companies when we receive your request.

We’ll show you each term company’s life insurance conversion privileges.

There is never any pressure or obligation with our service.

Thank you.

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