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What is A.M. Best?

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A.M. Best rates insurance companies on their ability to meet their financial obligations, a key factor in selecting a life insurance company.

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Amanda Shih

Published November 6, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A.M. Best grades the financial stability of insurance companies from A++ to D

  • Ratings correlate to how reliably a company can fulfill their financial obligations to consumers

  • Because life insurance may not pay out for several decades after being purchased, financial stability is an important factor in choosing the right company

When you research life insurance companies at Policygenius, we provide three third-party ratings to help you evaluate companies: the A.M. Best Rating, Better Business Bureau (BBB) Rating, and J.D. Power Rating.

J.D. Power and BBB both rank customer satisfaction, while A.M. Best rates a company’s financial health.

A.M. Best is a global credit rating agency established in 1899 that focuses exclusively on the insurance industry; they score insurance companies based on their ability to meet their financial obligations, i.e., whether you can count on them to pay out claims like the life insurance death benefit. The A.M. Best rating scale ranges from A++ (Superior) to D (Poor).

Policygenius only offers policies from insurance companies that have an A.M. Best rating of A- (Excellent) or better.

Why a life insurance company’s financial health is important

When you buy life insurance, you are purchasing protection for your family for decades to come. Term life insurance usually lasts for 10 to 30 years; permanent life insurance policies last for the rest of your life. It’s important to choose a life insurance company that you’re confident will be around and able to pay claims for the entire length of your policy.

A.M. Best insurance ratings are a reliable way to gauge your provider’s financial stability. However, know that there are also regulatory safeguards to ensure claims get paid even in the rare event that a life insurance company goes bankrupt.

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How A.M. Best determines its ratings

A.M. Best’s ratings consist of a letter grade, with or without plus or minus signs, which they call notches. A grade is given to an insurance company based on its ability to meet its ongoing financial obligations.

The credit ratings are based on a rigorous process during which A.M. Best compiles and analyzes public and proprietary financial information and data, including quarterly financial statements, for each company. A.M. Best regularly reviews and updates the ratings as new data becomes available. A.M. Best looks closely at data within four main categories:

  • Balance sheet strength — includes liquidity (i.e., a company’s cash on hand), quality of capital (i.e., how efficiently the company generates earnings), quality and appropriateness of reinsurance programs, and more
  • Operating performance — includes focus on the stability, diversity, sustainability of the company’s earnings sources, plus relationship between earnings and liability
  • Business profile — includes market position, management quality, distribution channels for the company’s products, and more
  • Enterprise risk management (ERM) — includes analysis of risk management framework and capability relative to the insurer’s risk profile

A committee determines the final A.M. Best rating to ensure rating consistency and objectivity in evaluation of the data.

Insurance companies that receive high ratings generally have strong and predictable cash flows; competitive advantages in branding and customer experience; and diverse earnings and revenue streams, among other factors.

A.M. Best credit ratings and definitions

The table below summarizes how A.M. Best defines each of the grades on their ratings scale.

Each rating from A to C also includes notches — either a minus sign or a second plus sign — which reflect some variation in financial strength within that grade level. For example, a "Good" company likely to meet their financial obligations that’s especially strong in the category might receive a B++ rather than a B+.

Rating categoryRating symbols and notchesCategory definitions, per A.M. Best
SuperiorA++ to A+Assigned to insurance companies that have a superior ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.
ExcellentA to A-Assigned to insurance companies that have, in our opinion, an excellent ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.”
GoodB++ to B+Assigned to insurance companies that have a good ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations.
FairB to B-Assigned to insurance companies that have a fair ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.
MarginalC++ to C+Assigned to insurance companies that have a marginal ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.
WeakC to C-Assigned to insurance companies that have a weak ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is very vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.
PoorDAssigned to insurance companies that have a poor ability to meet their ongoing insurance obligations. Financial strength is extremely vulnerable to adverse changes in underwriting and economic conditions.

Read the full A.M. Best ratings guide.

A.M. Best insurance ratings for the biggest life insurance companies

Below are the A.M. Best ratings for each of the 21 largest life insurance companies.

LIFE INSURANCE COMPANYA.M. BEST RATING
AIGA
AXA EquitableA
BrighthouseA
Globe LifeA
Guardian LifeA-
John HancockA+
Lincoln FinanciaA+
MassMutualA++
MetLife (Metropolitan Group)A+
Minnesota Life (Securian)A+
Mutual of OmahaA+
NationwideA+
New York LifeA++
Northwestern MutualA++
Pacific LifeA+
PrimericaA+
PrincipalA+
PrudentialA+
Transamerica (AEGON)A
State FarmA++
VoyaA

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If you want to have extra confidence in the long-term stability of your life insurance provider, A.M. Best’s insurance rating system is an easy and trustworthy way to evaluate an insurer’s financial health. However, financial stability is just one part of choosing the right life insurance company — an independent insurance broker like Policygenius can make sure you choose a provider that suits all of your needs.

A.M. Best FAQs:

What is an A.M. Best rating for insurance companies?

A.M. Best provides credit ratings for insurance companies based on their financial stability, including, most importantly, their ability to meet their financial obligations.

What is the A.M. Best rating scale?

Ratings are given on a graded scale of A++ to D, where A++ indicates a Superior financial rating and D indicates a Poor financial rating.

What is A.M. Best’s rating methodology?

A committee at A.M. Best evaluates public and proprietary data relating to several factors, including a company’s stability, the distribution of its products, liquidity, and risk management, to determine final ratings.

Why is a life insurance company’s A.M. Best rating important?

While there are other safeguards for life insurance companies that go out of business (a rare occurrence), a life insurance company with a strong financial rating offers extra assurance that they will be able to pay out your policy’s death benefit long after you purchase your policy.

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked in nonfiction book publishing and freelance content marketing. Amanda has a B.A. in literature and communication from New York University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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