People in the United States are living an average of 79 years, and our life expectancy keeps rising as we adopt more health-conscious habits. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation estimated that by meeting five low-risk lifestyle factors at age 50, men could extend their life expectancy by more than twelve years, and women could add fourteen years to their life expectancies. Living a healthier lifestyle can not only help you live longer, but it can also save you money on life insurance.
Insurance companies have to manage their risk.
Underwriting is the process insurance companies use to determine how much risk they are taking on when they insure you. Because certain health factors can have such a large influence on how long you can be expected to live, insurance companies look closely at them when deciding whether to issue a policy and if so, what terms they are able to offer. Here are some of the main health factors life insurance companies review in underwriting.
The CDC reported that in 2017–18, more than 42% of Americans were obese—up from 30.5% in 1999–2000. Obesity is associated with numerous health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, and increased mortality. People who are overweight or obese often pay more for life insurance, particularly if their weight has contributed to health problems.
Insurance companies commonly use body mass index (BMI) as part of their underwriting calculation. BMI doesn’t actually calculate body fat, but it uses height and weight to make a rough determination of whether someone is underweight, overweight, obese, or at a healthy weight. For this reason, people who are very muscular, for example, can have misleadingly high BMIs. This is only one factor that insurance companies consider, however, so if your medical records reflect a healthy lifestyle, a high BMI alone isn’t likely to be a deciding factor about your coverage.
Tobacco smoking is one of the single most important factors in life insurance underwriting. The CDC estimates that nonsmokers can expect to live ten years longer than smokers, and research indicates that quitting by age 40 reduces the risk of dying of a tobacco-related illness by approximately 90%. Naturally, underwriters view tobacco smoking as a giant red flag, but they also recognize the value of quitting. Often, former smokers can get rates just 10–20% higher than nonsmokers within a year of quitting, as long as they don’t have other health issues.
The younger you are, the more years you have in front of you. Life insurance companies understand this, and it’s why you can get the best rates on life insurance if you buy it when you’re young and healthy. Insurance companies have minimum and maximum ages for which they will issue life insurance coverage, and these can vary by plan. There are many different types of life insurance available to serve a wide range of ages, but the longer you wait, the higher your premium is likely to be.
If you're new to shopping for life insurance, check out our article, “An Introduction to Life Insurance” for a brief overview. ELCO Mutual provides whole life and annuity products to suit a variety of needs. For more information about life insurance and annuities, browse our blog.
*No history of tobacco smoking, being physically active, healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, normal BMI