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Life insurance for smokers
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Life insurance eligibility and premiums are risk-based. Smoking is typically seen as a high-risk behavior by life insurance companies, so smokers usually pay higher rates for coverage. However, there are life insurance options available for smokers. Bankrate's insurance editorial team breaks down what you need to know about life insurance for smokers, including coverage options and pricing.
Why do smokers have different life insurance rates?
Life expectancy statistics show that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 16 million Americans have a smoking-related disease, with 480,000 people dying annually due to smoking or second-hand smoke exposure.
Smokers generally have higher life insurance rates than non-smokers. This is because life insurance is based in part on life expectancy and health status, and smokers are considered at higher risk of premature death. In other words, the insurance company determines that by insuring a smoker or someone with a smoking-related illness, it will likely have to pay out a death benefit to the beneficiary sooner than it would for a non-smoker.
Individuals who used to smoke but do not anymore may still see higher rates than non-smokers because of the continued risk of smoking-related diseases. However, if you stopped smoking at least a year ago, you may qualify for non-smoker rates.
How do life insurance companies classify smokers?
Life insurance companies will likely classify you as a smoker if you smoke cigarettes, cigars or chew tobacco. In addition, if you vape tobacco or marijuana, even on an occasional basis, your life insurance company may also classify you as a smoker. Using nicotine gum or wearing nicotine patches may result in a smoker classification, too.
Cannabis usage may also be factored in differently by each company. Depending on the company’s policies, it may consider the legality in your state (illegal use may disqualify you from coverage), whether you have a medical marijuana card, your method and frequency of usage, and more.
Applying for life insurance as a smoker
When you apply for life insurance, your application will typically ask you if you’re a smoker. Life insurance companies treat smokers as high-risk policyholders, since smokers are more likely to develop health issues and pass away at a younger age.
Your life insurance company will likely fact check your application by requiring a medical exam. Most (but not all) life insurance policies require you to complete this exam. During the medical exam, a sample of blood, saliva or urine may be taken. When analyzed, it can indicate whether nicotine or cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, is in your system. If this evidence is found, you will likely be classified by the company as a smoker. If you lied on your application, you may be denied coverage or see a surcharged rate.
Any tobacco use will typically be clear, whether from cigarettes, pipe smoking, chewing tobacco, vaping or cigars. The blood test should also show if your system contains THC, which indicates marijuana use. Any of these can indicate that you belong in the smoking category, where you’d be subject to higher premium rates.
Even if you have recently quit smoking, there may be remnants of nicotine in your body. Generally, insurers want you to be nicotine-free for at least one year before you are considered to be a non-smoker.
Best types of life insurance for smokers
The best life insurance for smokers will depend on their specific needs for the policy. Smokers may be eligible for many different life insurance policy types. Although you may pay more than a non-smoker would, you'll likely be able to find more than one company that will write you a policy. Speaking to a licensed insurance agent may help you determine which policy type is best for your individual needs. Here are some commonly-offered policy types you may be eligible for:
- Term life insurance: The simplest and cheapest kind of life insurance, term life insurance lasts for a specific number of years — usually 10, 20 or 30 — and includes a death benefit paid out if you pass away during the policy’s term. After the term is over, there is no other benefit or payback. This is generally the most affordable life insurance for smokers.
- Whole life insurance: A whole life insurance policy is permanent coverage that will remain in force as long as you pay the premium. In addition, a portion of your premium will be put into a cash value component that you can draw from once a certain amount has accumulated. Whole life insurance is designed to guarantee a death benefit payout, as long as premiums are paid, so it's typically one of the more expensive types of life coverage.
- Guaranteed issue insurance: Guaranteed issue insurance is a unique type of permanent life insurance policy that does not require a medical exam or health screening. If you are a smoker or have an existing health condition, this may appeal to you, though coverage limits are usually capped around $25,000. Your premiums will not be based on your smoking behavior, but will instead take into account your age, gender and the amount of coverage you would like. The caveat with this type of life insurance is it can typically be more expensive than medically underwritten life insurance for a smoker in generally good health.
What happens if you lie on a life insurance application about smoking?
It’s never a good idea to lie on a life insurance application. If you lie on your life insurance application and your insurer discovers the misinformation, your application may be denied. An insurer could also withhold the death benefit from your beneficiaries if the lie is found upon your death.
Insurers have several ways in which they may determine the validity of the information provided on your application. First, the life insurance smoker test that is part of the medical exam will indicate nicotine use. Your insurer may also scrutinize your medical records, past life insurance applications and even your social media feeds. Life insurance companies might also use the Medical Information Bureau to verify risk factors listed on your application.
How much more does life insurance cost for smokers?
Your life insurance cost is determined by multiple factors, including your age, gender and general health. If you smoke, your premiums may be much higher than someone who doesn’t. On the other hand, if you recently stopped smoking and are in generally good health, you may see rates comparable to non-smokers.
Why is life insurance so expensive for smokers? Smokers are statistically more likely to die from cancer. Cigarette smoking can also lead to other illnesses, including gastrointestinal diseases and high blood pressure. In short, smoking makes you a higher risk for multiple diseases that may negatively impact your health.
Life insurance quotes do not vary as much between carriers as home or auto quotes. Comparing quotes for different policy types and coverage limits may help you identify the best cheap life insurance for you.
What if you quit smoking?
Unless you need coverage immediately, it might be a good idea to wait at least a year after you quit smoking before applying for life insurance. Some insurers look for you to be smoke-free for at least that long to qualify for lower rates.
If you have recently quit and need a policy in place as soon as possible, you may be able to obtain short-term life insurance or a policy that allows you to be re-rated down the line after some time has passed. Ask your insurance agent if your policy will allow this.