Your life insurance classification determines the rates you'll pay for your life insurance policy. After you apply for a policy, the insurance company will review all of your materials in underwriting, then assign you a risk class based on your health, build, family health history, hobbies, and occupation.
Life insurance companies generally use six health classifications to determine your premiums. However, each company assigns those classifications differently, which is why it's so important to compare insurance quotes to find your best rate.
What are the different health classifications?
There are six life insurance health classifications:
Table ratings (table 2, table 3, etc.)
Also called Preferred Elite, Super Preferred, or Preferred Select, the Preferred Plus classification comes with the lowest life insurance premiums. Applicants who are assigned Preferred Plus have a height-to-weight ratio within the Preferred-Plus range on the build table for that insurance company. Typically, people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 18 to 29 will fall into this range. (People with a BMI below 18 won't be assigned a class based on a build table, but will have their height-to-weight ratio evaluated in underwriting with the rest of their information.) People rated Preferred Plus may have one or two well-controlled or resolved minor health conditions and no deaths in their immediate family from heart disease or cancer.
The Preferred rating class, also called Non-Tobacco/Non-Smoker Preferred, has the second-lowest premiums. Applicants assigned a Preferred rating class have a height-to-weight ratio within the company's Preferred range (typically, people with a BMI of 30 or 31 will fall into this range). They likely have one or two well-controlled or resolved minor health conditions and no deaths in their immediate family from heart disease or cancer (some carriers allow one death in your immediate family from these conditions).
The Standard Plus rating class has the third-lowest premiums. Applicants who are rated Standard Plus have a height-to-weight ratio within the company's Standard Plus range (typically, people with a BMI of 32 or 33 will qualify fall into this range). They may have well-controlled or resolved mild-to-moderate health conditions. You can generally get a Standard Plus rating if there has been one death from heart disease or cancer in your immediate family.
The Standard classification, also called Non-Tobacco/Non-Smoker Standard, comes with the fourth lowest premiums. Applicants who get Standard rates have a height-to-weight ratio that falls within the company's Standard range (most people with a BMI between 34 and 38 will fall into this range). They may also have well-controlled or resolved moderate health conditions, chronic health conditions, mental health conditions like mild depression or anxiety, or be several years out from a more serious health incident. People are often rated Standard if more than one of their immediate family members has died of heart disease or cancer.
There are some details on your application that will generally result in a Standard rating even if you have no other health conditions. These include having quit smoking one to two years ago, being in recovery from some substances, and having a non-violent felony on your record (and being off parole).
Table ratings (table 2, table 3, etc.)
Table ratings (table 2, table 3, etc.) are assigned to applicants with more serious health conditions or whose height-to-weight ratio falls within the company's table rated range (most people with a BMI between 41 and 48 will fall into this range). Of the table ratings, table 1 (sometimes called table A) has the lowest premiums and table 10 (sometimes called table J) has the highest.
Premiums for table ratings are set in relation to the insurer's rates for the Standard risk class. Rates for table ratings are generally 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
Applicants who currently use tobacco or nicotine products or have in the past 12 months will receive a Tobacco or Smoker rating. There are usually just three categories for people who use tobacco or nicotine: Preferred Tobacco/Smoker, Standard Tobacco/Smoker, and Tobacco/Smoker table ratings. On average, the premium costs for these ratings are up to three times higher than their non-tobacco equivalents.
Tobacco/Smoker classifications are assigned using the same criteria as the Non-Tobacco/Non-Smoker Preferred and Standard ratings, but they also take into account frequency of nicotine or tobacco use. For tobacco or nicotine users, premiums for table ratings are generally calculated using the Standard Tobacco/Smoker rate and adding 25% for each level down the table.
How are life insurance classifications determined?
Insurance companies look at a wide range of health and lifestyle factors during underwriting to set your classification. Each insurance company has its own criteria for determining how much each of these factors affects your rating. Insurers also allow some flexibility in assigning classifications by looking at your whole application to assess your risk. The different approaches to setting classifications mean you’ll probably see different quotes from company to company (which is one reason it's imperative to shop around and get multiple quotes for life insurance).
Your health plays a large part in your life insurance classification. The insurance company will look at information from your medical exam (unless you qualify for accelerated underwriting), your answers to questions about previous or current medical conditions, and your prescription history. In some cases, the insurance company might also request an attending physician’s statement (APS) from your doctor to learn more about your health history.
Height & weight
Each life insurance company has its own build table that places you in a health classification based on height-to-weight ratios, similar to a BMI (Body Mass Index) measurement. Insurance companies also consider your weight history, so sudden or short-term weight changes may affect your rates, but will affect them more if the changes last a year or more.
Tobacco or nicotine use
Life insurance companies view tobacco use as so risky that they have created a separate category for applicants who smoke, and those rates can be up to three times more than those for non-smokers. Smoking, using chewing tobacco, or vaping will all significantly raise your rates — even if you do it occasionally. If it's been a year or more since you quit, you'll qualify for non-smoking rates. Requirements differ for each insurer, but generally, insurance companies want your last cigarette five years in the past before they consider you for Preferred Plus rates.
Alcohol and drug use
Being an occasional drinker won’t affect your premiums, but being a problem drinker will. And being sober from alcohol might, too, if you're recently in recovery, in a program, or have been to rehab. Many major insurers offer non-smoker classifications to marijuana users, depending on how often you smoke. Use of hard drugs may result in an immediate decline, unless you've been in recovery for several years.
Family health history
When you apply for life insurance, you'll be asked to disclose if a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with, been treated for, or died from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, or other some other hereditary conditions. This family health history can result in a lower life insurance ratings class, especially if a parent has died from heart disease or cancer.
Multiple moving violations will lead to a lower life insurance risk classification and higher rates, while DWIs within the last five years will result in a declined application. If you have a dangerous hobby (like scuba diving), the insurer will want to know more details (like how deep you dive). If you have a dangerous job (like in the fishing or mining industries), you'll need to share more about your daily tasks.
If the insurer thinks this hobby or occupation poses a big risk, they may add a flat extra fee to your policy, which could be $2 to $5 additional premium for every $1,000 of coverage you have. (That’s an extra $5,000 a year on a $1 million life insurance policy.)
Some life insurance companies may offer you an exclusion rider, meaning if your death is caused by a specific activity, your policy won’t pay out, but these are rare.
If you have a criminal record, most insurance companies want you to be a year out from being on parole before they will issue you a policy. If you have a felony on your record, Standard may be best rates you can get, even without any health issues, though Table ratings are likely, too.
How life insurance classifications impact your rates
Term life insurance rates for a 35-year-old female for a 30-year-term policy
$250,000 coverage amount
$500,000 coverage amount
$1 million coverage amount
How to get a better life insurance classification
Your life insurance classification is the final determinant of how much you’ll pay to protect your family.
How to get a better health classification if you're applying for life insurance now
If you're applying for life insurance now, there isn't a lot you can do to to change your current classification, since the underwriters are looking at your health over the last several years. You can, however, make sure you're applying to an insurer who is most friendly to your build, health history, and profile by shopping the market and finding the insurer with your best rates.
How to get a better health classification if you'll be applying for life insurance in the next few years
If you know you'll be shopping for life insurance in the next few years, there are a few things you can do that may lead to a better health classification — and lower rates:
Apply early: The average cost of life insurance increases by an average of 4.5 to 9% a year every year you put off applying, so you’ll save more the younger you are when you apply.
Address any health issues: Getting a health condition resolved or controlled is more likely to lead to a better health classification. For example, if you have high cholesterol, controlling it with diet or medication could mean that you still qualify for Preferred rates.
Quit smoking: If you're a tobacco user, quitting will have a huge impact on your health rating and premiums, especially as you get further from your quit date. (You'll have to be tobacco-free at least 12 months to five years, depending on the insurer, to get non-smoker rates.)
How to get a better health classification if you already have a life insurance policy
Once you've had your policy for at least a year, many insurers allow you to apply for a change in health classification and lower rates. This is called reconsideration. You'll have to take a new medical exam and go through underwriting again, but if your health has improved — or if you're further away from your smoking quit date or other medical event — you may get a better health classification and lower premiums.
Since every life insurance company weighs risk and assigns health classifications using different criteria, comparing rates from multiple providers will help you find the best policy for your needs.