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Life insurance for high-risk applicants
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When you apply for a life insurance policy, the insurance company looks at factors like your age, gender, medical history and lifestyle to determine your eligibility and calculate your premium. Individuals with no major health issues usually have no trouble getting a policy. However, some people have risk factors that make them more of a risk for the insurance companies. These people, referred to as high-risk applicants, still have life insurance options, but it might be helpful to understand what those options are.
What makes you a high-risk life insurance applicant?
A high-risk life insurance applicant is someone who has health or lifestyle risks that makes them riskier for life insurance companies to insure. Unlike home and auto insurance, life insurance quotes are based on the applicant’s life expectancy. To determine your risk, insurers will often conduct a medical examination and consider factors like your job or hobbies. Skydivers who are also smokers will typically pay more than a desk worker who spends most of their downtime reading.
Each insurance company looks at risk differently, so shopping around is a good idea. If an insurer does view you as high-risk, that insurer may refuse to cover you or limit you to buying a guaranteed issue policy, a high-cost no-exam life insurance policy. Those that do allow you to buy a typical term life insurance policy will charge high rates.
Your medical risk is one of the first things that insurers will look at. They’ll ask for medical history and may conduct a medical examination to make sure you’re in good shape and not ill. If you have any of the following conditions, you are likely considered high-risk:
- Cancer: A cancer diagnosis will usually put you in the high-risk category. Most insurers will block you from buying a policy until you’ve been cancer-free for a set number of years.
- Heart attack: If you have had a heart attack in the past or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it will impact your ability to get life insurance. People who have had one heart attack are often at risk of having another, which poses additional risk for the insurance company.
- Stroke: A history of strokes, a recent stroke, or one that has led to complications like paralysis can make it hard to buy life insurance.
- Dementia: Because there is no cure for cognitive disorders, people with dementia have to purchase high-risk life insurance. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
- HIV/AIDS: Even if you’re treating HIV/AIDS, a diagnosis will land you in the high-risk pool because studies have shown that people with these diseases have shorter life expectancies than average.
Other health conditions may not immediately make you a high-risk applicant. For instance, life insurance for diabetics can be pretty cheap, especially for policyholders with well-managed Type 2 Diabetes.
Your lifestyle can also impact your risk. Some jobs can put you at higher risk of injury and death and many hobbies also involve danger, so insurers will ask questions about how you spend your time.
- Occupation: Your job plays a big role in how insurers view your risk of death. Some jobs face much higher risk than others. In 2021, logging workers saw the highest fatal injury rate at 82.2 per 100,000. Fishing and hunting, roofing, aircrafting pilots and flight engineers, and structural iron and steel workers rounded out the top five. The average for all occupations was 3.6 per 100,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Hobbies: If you consider yourself to be a thrillseeker, you are most likely in the high-risk category. Insurance companies want to know if you participate in potentially dangerous hobbies like scuba diving, mountaineering, skydiving and motorcycle racing.
- Nicotine use: Smoking has a number of health risks, and it can lead to other medical issues like certain types of cancer and COPD. If you smoke cigarettes, vape or use chewing tobacco, life insurance companies will likely consider you to be high-risk. If you’re a previous smoker who has quit, you may not be considered high-risk, but may still have to pay high premiums. Importantly, life insurance for smokers is typically available, but you should be prepared to likely pay more.
- Alcohol consumption: If you drink more alcohol than what is considered moderate drinking (two drinks per day for men and one for women according to the CDC), life insurance companies may consider you to be high-risk. Overconsumption of alcohol can trigger other health complications such as liver damage.
How do high-risk life insurance rates work?
When determining how much to charge, the largest life insurance companies categorize applicants based on their risk. The lowest-risk applicants will receive the best rates while high-risk people will pay more. Not every company uses the same classes during the underwriting process, but it’s common for life insurance companies to place applicants in one of the following categories:
- Preferred select or preferred plus: This category is for the lowest-risk applicants who are in good health, have a safe job and hobbies, and who don’t have bad habits or a family history of genetic disease.
- Preferred: Preferred applicants are typically healthy individuals who may have one or two marks against them. For instance, they may have a small medical issue or a slightly risky hobby.
- Standard: If you have a few medical issues or a risky lifestyle, you may fit into the standard category, and will likely pay higher rates than those in the preferred plus and preferred groups.
- Substandard: Applicants who have a dangerous occupation or hobbies, or who have pre-existing medical conditions, will pay some of the highest insurance rates.
- Preferred tobacco: Former smokers will fall into this category. They’ll likely pay less than current smokers.
- Standard tobacco: Most current smokers likely fit into the standard tobacco group. Since smoking can cause cancer and other health issues, those in the standard tobacco group will likely pay steep premiums.
How to find high-risk insurance
Though every insurer is different, the rates you pay are usually based on the table rating system above. The higher the category you land in, the less you pay. High-risk applicants, such as those with bad medical histories or dangerous jobs, will fall lower on the table and pay higher rates.
In the worst case, insurers might not be willing to give you an insurance policy at all. If that happens, you can consider applying for guaranteed acceptance life insurance. These policies require no medical exams or lifestyle questions, and rates are based on age, gender and location. However, they’re usually very expensive and may have a waiting period before your beneficiaries can access the death benefit. Consider working with a life insurance agent to find a carrier if you’re struggling to find insurance.