Life Insurance Shopping Guide Chapter 4: Applying For Life Insurance

Walk through the application process to learn how to buy life insurance.

Colin Lalley 1600


Colin Lalley

Colin Lalley

Associate Content Director, Home & Auto Insurance

Colin Lalley is the associate content director of home and auto insurance at Policygenius, where he leads our property & casualty editorial teams. His insights have been featured in Inc. Magazine, Betterment, Chime, Credit Seasame, Zola, and the Council for Disability Awareness.

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You’re reading Policygenius’ 4-part guide to shopping for life insurance.

Click here for Chapter 1: Understanding Life Insurance

Click here for Chapter 2: How Much Does Life Insurance Cost?

Click here for Chapter 3: How Do I Choose a Life Insurance Policy?

Click here for Chapter 4: Applying For Life Insurance

Once you know what type of life insurance you need, how much you need, and how to make sure you’re choosing the right policy, all that’s left is to apply.

In most cases, you can start the application process online and finish it with a few phone calls with a licensed agent to confirm all of the details. You can go from comparing quotes to signed policies in four easy steps:

  1. Fill out the online application

  2. Complete a phone interview

  3. Take a free medical exam

  4. Wait for approval & final rates

Ready to shop for life insurance?

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1. Fill out the online application

Be prepared to answer health questions and have documentation about your income, like your latest tax return, ready to reference. You’ll be asked to sign authorization forms that allow your health information to be shared with the life insurance company and their underwriting partners.

Documents to have in hand

  1. Proof of identity, citizenship, and age, like a driver’s license, birth certificate, or a valid passport. Noncitizen residents can use their green card (permanent resident card) or an employment authorization card.

  2. Proof of income. You can use pay stubs, a letter of employment, a tax return, or an earnings statement from your bank if your primary income is from interest or rent. If you’re unemployed, an unemployment letter or monthly statements describing your unemployment benefits will work.

  3. Proof of residency. For renters, that could be your signed lease or a rent receipt. For homeowners, your mortgage bill or a property tax statement will suffice. Insurers will also accept a utility bill or a postmarked envelope with your return address on it.

2. Complete a phone interview

Your life insurance phone interview will start with some basic personal and financial information (your Social Security number, your net worth).

The insurance agent will ask questions about your job, assets, and financial obligations to get an idea of why you’re applying for life insurance, and whether the amount you’re applying for makes sense with your financial situation. (For example, if you are applying for a $1 million death benefit, but you’re unemployed and have no assets, the life insurance company is going to have some more questions.)

The rest of the questions are about your health and habits. This part of the interview process helps the insurance company weigh out how risky you are to insure so they can complete the underwriting process and set your premium rates.

That’s why, during your phone interview, you’ll be asked about your health history, your family’s health history, and any dangerous hobbies you partake in, including things like racing, scuba diving, mountain climbing, skydiving, or hang gliding. You’ll also be specifically asked about aviation hobbies.

Info to have on hand to help you answer life insurance interview questions

  • Your driver’s license number and Social Security number.

  • Information about other life insurance policies you have, including policy numbers if you have them handy. (Insurers want to make sure you aren’t over-insured)

  • Financial information, like income and net worth (assets minus liabilities). This helps ensure you’re getting the right level of coverage. Rough figures are fine, and you don’t need to share account info.

  • Citizenship documentation. (Read more about life insurance for visa and green card holders)

Info to help you answer questions about your health history

  • Dates of treatments, surgeries, diagnoses, and procedures, especially the past 10 years.

  • Prescription names and dosages for current medications.

  • Name, addresses and phone numbers for your current doctors.

  • Info about your family’s health history, including major diagnoses and ages and causes of death, if applicable.

  • Your current weight, and dates of any major fluctuations

Info to help you answer questions about your habits and hobbies

  • Think ahead about how often you exercise and participate in sports activities, especially extreme sports like hang gliding, scuba diving, racing, plane flying, etc.

  • Be ready to answer questions about your smoking and drinking habits and drug use; it can help to calculate how often you’re partaking beforehand so you’re not caught off guard during the interview. And if you’ve quit smoking, make sure you know the date you’ve quit.

Genius Tip

The life insurance application process can take up to eight weeks, especially if the carrier has to check medical information with your doctor. Plan accordingly!

3. Take a free medical exam

Getting a paramedical exam is just like going to your doctor to get a physical. However, the life insurance company knows that scheduling an appointment can be difficult, so you can choose to have the medical technician come to your home or work. The whole thing should take about 30 minutes.


You can have your medical exam done at your home or work - they'll come to you.

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The tech will perform the routine health checks you expect from your regular doctor. That means checking your pulse and blood pressure and recording your height and weight (and figuring out your body mass index).

If you’re an older applicant or you’re applying for a large amount of life insurance coverage, you may also have to undergo an electrocardiogram, or EKG, where the technician will put electrodes on your skin to measure your heart’s electrical activity.

The tech will ask you a series of health-related questions to help the insurer confirm the information on your application. Expect to get asked about the kinds of prescriptions you’re taking and what doctors you’ve seen recently.

You’ll have to take a blood test, so be ready for that if you’re afraid of needles. In many cases, you’ll have to provide a urine sample too.

Genius Tip

4 secrets to prepping for your life insurance medical exam:

  • Keep your medical contacts & history handy

  • Fast 6-8 hours prior to

  • Make sure you’re hydrated

  • Avoid strenuous exercise beforehand

4. Wait for approval & final rates

The waiting is annoying, but necessary.

How long you wait will depend on how fast the underwriter – the person who takes all of your information and transforms it into a policy price – works. The biggest delays come when they need medical records from your doctors. But rest assured that eventually, your life insurance company will decide your final premiums.

Note that there are some types of life insurance that require no or limited underwriting. Choosing these types may affect the cost of your policy.

Sign the policy

Your life insurance company will send you your policy either in the mail or by email. Once you get it, you can sign all of your papers and authorize your payment method. As soon as you sign the policy and pay the first premium, it’s in force – and that’s it. You have life insurance – and your loved ones are protected in case the worst happens. Go ahead and cross life insurance off your financial wellness checklist!

Takeaway checklist: What’s next?

Once you buy life insurance - what's next? Here are some things you can do to complete your financial protection:

  • Keep your life insurance policy safe. Keep a copy with your lawyer or in a safe deposit box, and let your beneficiaries or a neutral third party know the policy exists.

  • Review your coverage needs regularly. You might find yourself with a larger mortgage or more kids in the future. If you decide you need more coverage, you may be able to up it without going through underwriting again.

  • Check your insurance gap. Sure, now you have life insurance, but what about disability insurance in case you can’t work? Or homeowners insurance to protect your belongings? Take a 5-minute insurance checkup to easily see where you’re still at risk.

Buying life insurance isn't as scary as it first seems! And you don't have to go through the process along: If you ever become stuck, reach out to a licensed expert for unbiased advice and assistance.