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How are life insurance rates determined?

Risk pools and the determination of your rate

When you run your instant term life insurance quote, you'll see a list or rates down the right side.  As life insurance agents, we take for granted how they got there and what ultimately determines them.  Maybe, we're jaded that way but we know they're the best rate on the market (just look at our best life insurance rate guarantee) for some of the strongest carriers on the market so we're pretty content.  Being new to the life insurance market, you may wonder how those rates are determined.  Let's look at what drives life insurance rates and how to get the best ones.

A quick recap...life insurance is essentially insuring the loss of income over a period of time if a person passes away early.  There may be twists and wrinkles but that's it in a nutshell.  The first determining factor for your life rates had to do with general statistics and more importantly, demographics.  To break it down...what are the characteristics that lessen or increase your probability of passing away during a given period of time.  Let's start with the easy ones.  Age.  This is obvious...the older you are...the more likely that you will pass away (on average).  Gender.  Women (again...that all important term "on average") live longer than men.  Where you live can affect your risk of passing away early.  Mortality tables differ from State to State with some pretty significant variances.

Those are the easier to understand determinants to life insurance rates.  Let's now did a little deeper.  There are habits that on average can severely increase your chance of passing away.  Smoking, drug use, and excessive drinking are obvious ones that come to mind in terms of life insurance.  By now, most people know that smoking is bad for you but mortality (and morbidity for that matter) tables directly reflect just how bad these traits can be.  Your chance of passing away from a given cancer can increase from double to 23 times that of a non-smoker.  Even an ex smoker has better odds than a current smoker...although higher than a non-smoker.  Your life insurance rates will reflect this risk with much higher term life rates.  Drug use and excessive drinking are similar in their deleterious effect.

So we have basic demographics and habits.  What about general health status and history?  This is another critical determinant to your offer life insurance premiums.  Here's there a wider net that's cast but most of the issues directly tie into mortality tables.  For example, acne probably doesn't have much impact on mortality so it's not a prime determinant of risk.  The two main killers are tied to either cardiopulmonary health or cancer so these are examples of critical determinants.  Any health issue that corresponds with these or other contributing health issues will impact the rates available.  This is why blood pressure, cholesterol, height and weight information is needed during the life application underwriting process.  For example, height and weight is important but the measurement between your stomach and chest (essentially body shape) can be a better (or adjacent) indicator of risk. 

There are other issues that are use to determine rates such as family health history.  Unfortunately, large issues such as cancer, heart disease, and mental illness have a genetic component.  We have a considerable impact on whether these genes are expressed through our habits and general health maintenance but they will still ask for this information as it does have relevancy.

So you see that any issue that has a bearing on the risk of passing away during a given period of time is directly figured in the rate offered to you, but life insurance is about spreading risk among many people.  So, essentially the life insurance company takes all these factors for all the people in a given risk pool.  They estimate (which is too light of a word to explain this process) how many people are likely to pass away in a given risk pool and charge enough term life premium to accommodate this cost while maintaining reserves, profits (if for-profit company),  and general company expense.  Life insurance rates are based on the collective risks of all those insured in a given risk pool.  In term, our term life insurance quoting engine parses all the options to find the best-priced plans for your given "risk profile". 



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