What is a high-risk life insurance policy?
A high-risk life insurance policy provides coverage to someone who poses a relatively high risk to insure. When you apply for life insurance, underwriters determine your risk classification, which ties closely to your life expectancy.
“Some occupations are riskier than others. Some examples are private pilots, scuba divers, oil rig workers, and even some construction workers,” said Erik Johansson, life insurance sales agent at Policygenius. “If the insurance company determines that you have a higher risk based on your occupation, you could pay more for your life insurance.”
If your risk is determined to be high, you’ll receive a substandard rate for your approved policy. Substandard rates — also known as table ratings — tend to be 25% to 200% more expensive than standard rates, which are usually reserved for applicants with an average insurance risk.
Because different insurance companies evaluate risk differently, if you’re a high-risk applicant, be sure to work with a licensed agent who can shop around for you and make sure you’re getting connected with the insurance company that can give you the best rate.
Factors that determine life insurance risk
Your risk can increase based on your occupation, hobbies, and habits. Underwriters will take your comprehensive health and lifestyle into account while evaluating your application.
Occupation: Generally speaking, your occupation won’t affect your life insurance. But some professions — like some firefighters — can have more limited options.
Hobbies: Certain hobbies, such as scuba diving, will increase the cost of your life insurance or limit your options.
Habits: Some habits — like the use of controlled substances — will alter what rates you can receive, especially if they affect your overall health.
Life insurance for high-risk occupations
If an insurance company evaluates that your occupation is hazardous — meaning it will increase your chance of death — it will likely affect your rates.
“If your job happens to be dangerous or involve high risk activities like working from great heights, around toxic materials, or high pressured machinery, your rate for life insurance could be higher,” said Robin Flournoy, life insurance sales agent at Policygenius.
There were 5,190 work-related fatalities in the United States in 2021.  About half of those deaths were concentrated in three sectors: construction, transportation and warehousing, and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. 
“Hazardous” jobs could include any job that potentially increases your chance of dying, including: diving, mining, or high-rise construction work. Your hazardous occupation could result in a less favorable risk classification or a flat extra fee.
But insurers could also consider you high-risk for other reasons related to your job.
For example, doctors or nurses who travel to countries outside of the U.S. as medical missionaries could have limited coverage options. And people working in a marijuana dispensary will likely get declined for life insurance coverage because the federal government still considers cannabis an illegal substance.
What jobs may be considered high-risk by life insurance companies?
Active duty military
Life insurance companies are likely to deem military personnel high-risk if they’re deployed to a country with a State Department-issued warning or can’t disclose the location of deployment, or if they’re likely to see combat or are a member of Special Forces, Rangers, SEALS, Marine Force Recon, Marine Raiders, Delta Force, Air Force Pararescuer, or a similar unit.
CEOs & CFOs
If you’re a CEO or CFO conducting international business and you spend more than six months out of the year outside the United States or Canada, you may qualify for a life insurance policy with fewer American companies. Depending on the countries you visit for work, your coverage options might also be limited.
Some insurers have stricter guidelines for commercial pilots because they view their profession as an increased risk. If you’re a commercial pilot applying for life insurance, insurers will want to know, for example, if you fly internationally or domestically, and if you also fly recreationally, to assess your level of insurance risk.
While being a delivery driver alone won’t limit your options for life insurance coverage or increase your rates, some related activities might. If you deliver any dangerous or hazardous materials, this could potentially impact your ability to get competitive life insurance rates.
Being a dentist alone isn’t considered high-risk by life insurance companies, but some activities related to the dental profession might. If you’re a dentist who travels for work to some countries outside of the U.S. or are a medical missionary, your life insurance coverage options might be limited. And any self-prescribed medication that might not be fully representative of your overall health could also impact your eligibility.
If you scuba dive on vacation, you won’t see any impact on your life insurance rates unless you have other health considerations that put you at greater risk when diving. But if you’re a rescue or salvage diver, insurers might consider your job high-risk and offer you higher premiums. Insurance companies assess your risk as a scuba diver based on how often you dive, where you dive, and the types of dives you perform.
Similar to dentists, doctors aren’t inherently deemed a high insurance risk by insurers, but certain activities related to the medical profession might be. Traveling for work or volunteerism to certain countries, or having a prescription history that doesn’t fully represent your overall health, could limit your coverage options.
Ranchers & farm workers
Though most ranchers and farm workers won’t have to supply much more information about their profession when applying for life insurance, farmers who work in the hemp industry may have to answer a few additional questions. If your work is related to non-licensed industrial hemp, or adjacent to the manufacturing, sales, or distribution of marijuana, you’ll likely have limited life insurance options. This is because marijuana is currently illegal at the federal level.
Firefighters and first responders
Certain type of first responders, like wildfire firefighters or firefighters whose job involve participating in higher-risk activities like smoke jumping, are usually considered high-risk by some life insurance companies. If you’re a firefighter or first responder applying for life insurance, be ready to answer additional questions related to the type of risk you’re exposed to due to your job.
Similar to other occupations, attorneys are not intrinsically considered high-risk by insurers. But if you are a lawyer and spend more than six months out of the year outside the U.S. for work or otherwise, you may qualify for a life insurance policy with fewer American companies. And if you work for and international law firm or organization or otherwise and frequently travel outside the U.S., you’ll have to time your life insurance application around your travel plans.
Marijuana industry jobs
While using marijuana products, either recreationally or medically, doesn’t disqualify you from being able to get a life insurance policy, working in the cannabis industry is considered by insurers a high-risk activity from the legal standpoint and might limit your coverage options.
“Because the federal government views the cannabis industry as illegal activity, if you earn an income from that industry, it is highly unlikely you will be able to get life insurance coverage,” said John Harris, life insurance senior associate at Policygenius.
The nursing profession isn’t considered high-risk by life insurance companies, but, similar to doctors and dentists, certain activities associated with it could limit your coverage options. If you’re a nurse who travels to certain countries for work or as a medical missionary, or you have a prescription medication in your record that isn’t fully representative of your overall health, your coverage options could be limited.
Oil refinery workers
If you work at an oil refinery, you’ll likely be considered high risk by an insurance company. This is because oil refineries usually house hazardous chemicals that create a potentially dangerous environment. These chemicals are often flammable, and can can cause fires or explosions. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals is also statically correlated with poor health conditions such as cancer, heart conditions and blood disorders.
Some people who work in law enforcement might be deemed a higher insurance risk than others. If you’re a municipal police officer, your life insurance rates might not be drastically impacted by your profession. But if you have a specialty that involves a higher degree of risk — for example, if you do undercover work or are part of a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team — your premiums might be higher.
Some insurers have stricter guidelines for aviation-related occupations. If you’re a private pilot applying for life insurance, insurers might deem you a high insurance risk. If you have a history of aviation accidents, or fly regularly to remote locations, you might have to pay higher premiums or have limited coverage options.
Professional athletes and runners
Insurance companies don’t consider all professional athletic activities the same. If you’re an MMA fighter, for example, the insurance companies will consider you a higher risk than someone who golfs professionally. Insurers usually ask professional athletes a number of questions about the physical demands of their profession in order to assess their level of insurance risk.
Similar to other healthcare professions, veterinarians can be deemed high-risk by certain insurers based on some activities related to their occupation. If you’re a vet who travels constantly to some countries outside of the U.S. that might be flagged by the Department of State with a “Do Not Travel” advisory, your coverage options might be limited.
Each insurer has its own guidelines to assess life insurance risk. Policy shopping across multiple companies can help you find the right coverage for you at the most affordable rate.
What is the best type of life insurance for high-risk jobs?
If you have a high-risk job, it’s important to get life insurance to supplement whatever coverage your employer may be offering you. For most people, term life insurance is the best way to get the coverage you need at a competitive price.
Term life insurance
Term life insurance is one of the most affordable life insurance coverage options on the market, only lasts for a set term, and comes with few rules and tax restrictions. It’s the best option for most people looking to protect their income and provide their family with a financial safety net to cover any debts — including a mortgage or any other types of personal loans.
In some circumstances, your high-risk job may make you ineligible for term life or only allow for coverage with high premiums. In these cases, whole life insurance may be a better option for you.
Whole life insurance
Traditional whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that provides coverage for your entire life and has a cash value that earns interest. It's best for people looking to use life insurance to diversify their investment portfolio and people with long-term financial obligations.
Whole life insurance does tend to be cost-prohibitive, and can be 10 to 15 times more expensive compared to term life insurance with a similar face amount. The benefit of whole life insurance is that it lasts for the rest of your life, and many applications offer guaranteed approval.
Guaranteed issue life insurance, for example, is a good alternative for people who need insurance to help cover end-of-life expenses, like a funeral. It’s a type of whole life insurance, but the face amount is usually between $10,000 and $40,000. This allows you to get the coverage you need with a more manageable premium.
Life insurance for high-risk hobbies
Just like your occupation, you can have hobbies that are considered hazardous — meaning statistically they decrease your life expectancy.
What hobbies are considered high risk for life insurance?
Some of the more common high-risk hobbies include:
If you participate in any of these types of activities, you’ll need to disclose that information to the insurance company.
Based on the details you share, the agent you work with will help you determine which company will be able to provide the best rate.
What is the best life insurance policy type for high-risk hobbies?
If you have a high-risk hobby, term life insurance will typically give you the most competitive rate possible. Depending on the details of your hobby, the insurance company may need to approve your policy at a higher rate or with a flat extra fee.
If you’re not able to get a desirable term life policy, your licensed agent can help you consider any permanent life insurance options that are available to you as well.
Because all insurers evaluate your occupation differently, it’s important to work with a licensed agent who can shop your application around to compare rates.
Life insurance for high-risk habits
Insurance companies look holistically at your health and lifestyle, which include your habits. Certain habits are known to affect life expectancy and are considered high-risk.
It’s important to be forthcoming on your life insurance application so that your life insurance agent can be sure you’re applying with the company that can give you the best rates based on your health and lifestyle.
What habits are considered high-risk?
Most commonly, substance-use habits affect your eligibility for life insurance. The insurance company will verify the information you provide using the medical information bureau (MIB), so it’s important to be accurate and thorough when discussing your habits with an advisor.
How are rates determined for high-risk life insurance policies?
When you apply for life insurance, underwriters will carefully assess your risk. Your risk is the insurer’s estimate for how likely you are to die while the policy is active.
If you’re healthy and don’t have any hazardous occupation, hobbies, or habits, you’ll likely get a competitive rate for life insurance.
If you do qualify as high-risk for life insurance rates for any reason, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have any competitive options for life insurance.
Because insurance companies use different guidelines for evaluating risk, in many cases, finding a competitive rate is just a matter of applying with the company that will be best for you.
Overview of life insurance risk classes
When underwriters are finished reviewing your application, they will assign you a risk class. This risk class will determine the rate that you’re eligible for, and ultimately, how much you pay for your life insurance.
While every insurer uses its own guidelines for evaluating applications, when you’re approved for life insurance, you’ll be assigned one of the following standardized health classes.
Preferred Plus. This is the best health rating. You must be in excellent health — meaning you have just one or two well-controlled or resolved minor conditions — with a BMI generally between 18 and 29 to qualify. You’ll also have limited to no medical issues in your family history.
Preferred. This is the second best health rating. To qualify, you’ll likely have a BMI of 30 or 31 or you may have one or two minor health issues that are well managed.
Standard Plus. This is the third best health rating. Most people who qualify have a BMI of 32 or 33, with a moderate but well-managed health issue. You may have close family who have died due to a medical condition.
Standard. Standard has the fourth best premiums. You can receive a standard rating if you have a BMI of 34 to 38, moderate or chronic health conditions, or you have had one or more immediate family members die from a serious medical condition.
What is a table rating?
Table rated policies are sometimes referred to as “substandard” policies, meaning the rating is below standard. You can be table rated if you have a BMI of 39 or above, serious or untreated health conditions, a severe family medical history, or a combination of these factors.
The table you’re rated at affects how much you’ll pay for your life insurance coverage. Table 1 (sometimes called table A) has the lowest premiums and table 10 (sometimes called table J) has the highest premiums.
How table rates determine the cost of your premium
If you receive a table rating, your premium will be set in relation to your carrier’s Standard risk class. Rates for table ratings are usually calculated by adding 25% to the Standard rate for each level down the table. (Table 1 is at the top of the table, and table 10 is at the bottom.)
Percentage above Standard rates
How your motor vehicle record can impact your life insurance rates
Your driving history can impact your insurability. When you apply for life insurance, the insurance company will request a copy of your motor vehicle report (MVR).
If the MVR shows recent violations, like multiple speeding tickets or recent DUIs, this could impact your ability to get affordable life insurance.
Best life insurance companies for high-risk applicants
Best overall: Prudential
Best for high-risk occupations: Transamerica
Best for high-risk activities: Prudential
Most affordable: Protective
Best guaranteed issue acceptance: Mutual of Omaha
Best overall high-risk life insurance
Prudential is the most accommodating carrier when it comes to any hazards that may be part of your day-to-day life. In most cases, whether it‘s an occupation, hobby, or habit, Prudential is able to make an offer of coverage.
Best life insurance for high-risk occupations
Transamerica is best for hazardous occupations, including wildfire firefighter, active duty military, and oil refinery work. It’s able to make competitive offers of coverage for occupations that may not be eligible for approval at all with other insurance companies.
Best life insurance for high-risk activities
Why we chose it
Prudential offers the best risk class for almost all of the most common high-risk activities, including skydiving, rock climbing, scuba diving, and recreational aviation.
Most affordable high-risk life insurance
Protective offers a competitive option for most hazardous activities, and consistently offers one of the most cost-effective options for term life insurance.
Best guaranteed issue life insurance for high-risk applicants
Mutual of Omaha offers one of the most competitively priced guaranteed issue policies. If a term life insurance policy is not right for you, Mutual of Omaha’s guaranteed issue policy will likely be your most desirable option.
How to get a high-risk life insurance policy
If you engage in any occupation, activities, or habits that could classify you as high-risk, the best thing you can do is be forthcoming when you apply for life insurance. This will help your licensed agent find you the best possible life insurance policy.
During underwriting, the life insurance company will verify the information you provided on your application. It will then make you a formal offer of coverage, which you can accept or deny.
Compare life insurance companies
You’ll work with a licensed agent when you apply for life insurance. After you provide the details of your health and lifestyle profile, they’ll shop your application around to find the insurance company that will be able to offer you the best rate.
Compare policy types and offerings to see what works best for you
Insurance companies evaluate risk differently. If you engage in any hazardous activities, it’s important to be thorough on your application so that you can compare your options for coverage. Your licensed agent is responsible to help you get the best possible policy.