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High Risk Life Insurance | Are You Really High Risk?


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High risk life insurance is any policy that is likely to be approved, but with a higher premium rate than someone who is in good or excellent health will pay.

There are various classifications of high-risk life insurance, and the premiums can vary greatly depending on the nature and extent of the risk.

Fortunately, even if you are judged to be high risk, there’s almost certainly a life insurance policy available for you.

In some cases, the premium can be surprisingly affordable.

What is High Risk Life Insurance?

Anytime an insurance company evaluates an applicant for life insurance, they analyze the risk factors that the applicant faces. Risk factors are the key to underwriting life insurance policies because they determine the likelihood the company will pay a claim on the policy.

Naturally, life insurance companies prefer to provide coverage for people in excellent health who are very likely to live normal lifespans or even exceptionally long lives. Though all applicants will eventually die, requiring the payment of the claim, it all comes down to the timing factor.

When an insurance company writes a policy, the greatest profit will come from applicants who are likely to live the longest.

For example, an insurance company will earn more money on a policy for someone who will live another 40 years than they will on someone who might die within the next 20 years.

The nature of life insurance is this: companies collect premiums that are invested to pay claims eventually, but also to cover operating expenses and produce a profit for the company. The longer the applicant lives, the better the math works for the company.

This is the reason why young life insurance applicants who are also in excellent health are able to get the lowest premiums available.

Older applicants, and those with significant health problems or other risks, require higher premiums to justify the financial risk to the company that comes with a shorter expected lifespan.

Classifications of High Risk Life Insurance

One factor that may be unknown to everyone who isn’t in the insurance industry is that there are many different types of factors that contribute to the classification of high risk.

Health conditions are only the most obvious, but there are several more:

High Risk Health Conditions

While health-related conditions are certainly not the only risk factors involved with life insurance, they are almost certainly the most common. But at the same time, not all health conditions are equal risks.

For example, some health conditions are either temporary or well-controlled with medications or other therapies. These conditions may result in a higher premium, but you’re not likely to be declined for coverage. And the higher premiums themselves may be only modestly so because while such conditions do represent a risk, they don’t fall into the category of those that have the potential to reduce your lifespan.

With any of these health risks, it may still be possible to qualify for preferred premium rates if the condition is well-controlled and your overall health is good or excellent.

Examples of controlled high-risk health conditions include:

  • Well-controlled hypertension and high cholesterol
  • Many types of skin cancer
  • Asthma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Dozens of other conditions

However, other health-related conditions are considered higher risk. They hold the potential not only for higher premiums but also the possibility of your application being declined.

That’s because they fall into the category of conditions that have the potential to shorten your lifespan.

Examples of higher-risk health conditions include:

High Risk Occupations

This one may come as a bit of a surprise, but certain occupations also have the real potential to shorten your lifespan.

If you work in one of these fields and apply for life insurance, you should expect to pay a higher premium.

There are some jobs where the worker literally puts his or her life on the line.

Examples of high-risk occupations include:

  • Fishermen
  • Loggers
  • Pilots (though not necessarily those who fly for major airlines)
  • Miners and oil workers
  • Iron and steel workers (including those who work in the construction of high-rise buildings)
  • Roofers
  • Trash collectors
  • Farmers
  • Among other occupations

But where it may be particularly interesting – and unexpected – are people in occupations that involve spending a considerable amount of time on the road.

After all, automobile accidents are one of the leading causes of death in America. If you spend a considerable amount of time on the road, your occupation will be considered high risk.

High-risk occupations that involve driving:

  • Commercial drivers
  • Delivery people
  • Salespeople

This is not a complete list of high-risk occupations. In addition, while those listed above are the most common, each company may have its own list of designated high-risk occupations.

And with so many people working in diverse occupations these days, it’s possible you’re employed in a new or unconventional field that will be considered high risk by some insurance companies.

In some cases, you can get a policy at preferred premium rates – assuming you are in excellent health and otherwise live a low-risk lifestyle – even if you are employed in one of these high-risk fields.

However, the policy may specifically exclude death occurring as a result of working in that field. The policy will pay out if you die as a result of an illness or accident, but not if it was either directly or indirectly caused by your occupation.

High Risk Behaviors

Whether we like it or not, insurance companies also take personal behavior into account when underwriting policies. After all, certain behaviors definitely have the potential to reduce your lifespan.

Common examples include the following:


Smoking can increase your life insurance premium by as much as four times that of a non-smoker. That’s because smoking has been closely linked to life-shortening illnesses, like heart disease and especially cancer.

You may also be surprised to know that the insurance threshold for smoking is quite low. That one pack a week habit you think of as being casual will be viewed by an insurance company as if you smoke a pack a day.

Also, be aware that smokers’ life insurance rates may also apply to similar behaviors that don’t seem obvious. One example is chewing tobacco since you’re consuming nicotine, and it can lead to cancer. Another is the recently popular practice of vaping. Not only does vaping involve inhaling various toxic chemicals, but many vaping products also include nicotine.

Illicit drug use

Not only do various illicit drugs have the potential to cause life-threatening illnesses – as well as fatal overdoses – but it often involves a dangerous lifestyle as well. That could include engaging in criminal behavior, which will result in incarceration. That by itself has the potential to reduce your lifespan.

Don’t imagine you’ll be able to keep illicit drug use secret from the insurance company. Access to large medical databases will reveal if you have ever been hospitalized for drug use, or participated in a drug rehabilitation program. As well, your criminal background will be checked, revealing if there have been any arrests, convictions, or incarcerations.

You may get a low premium if illicit drug use is several years in your past. But if there are any indications that it’s recent, premiums will be high, or you may even have your application declined.

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol can also contribute to life-shortening health conditions, and like illicit drugs, it can result in a dangerous lifestyle. Most obvious will be driving while intoxicated. If alcohol abuse is either a recent episode or an ongoing behavior, your application for life insurance may be declined.

Once again, this is a behavior pattern that will be difficult to conceal from an insurance company. Just as is the case with illicit drug use, the insurance company will check databases to determine if you have been hospitalized for alcohol abuse or have participated in any rehabilitation programs.

They’ll also check with the local department of motor vehicles to see if there are any incidences of DUI or DWI in your past. Any occurring within the last five years will result in a significantly higher life insurance premium.

Aggressive driving

This behavior is another that may be a bit of a surprise. After all, isn’t aggressive driving an issue for your auto insurance company?

Yes to that, but it is to life insurance companies as well. They do investigate your driving record with your state department of motor vehicles, and make an evaluation of your driving habits. An occasional moving violation or at-fault accident may not be an issue. But if you are a repeat offender with violations, and/or have a history of at-fault accidents, you will either be charged a higher premium, or face the possibility of a decline of your application.

Foreign travel to dangerous destinations

The U.S. Department of State issues advisories on travel to virtually every country in the world. There are different ratings, but some countries are listed as “Level 4: Do Not Travel”. If you normally or even occasionally visit countries on that list, you may be charged a higher premium by a life insurance company. The policy may even contain an exclusion, prohibiting payment of benefits if your death occurs directly or indirectly as a result of traveling to one of those countries.

The list currently includes Afghanistan, Mongolia, South Sudan, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, and China (recent due to coronavirus).

Each insurance company may have additional countries included on that list. You will generally be asked on the application if you have either recently traveled to any of those countries, or plan to in the foreseeable future.

High-Risk Hobbies

This is another risk category that’s a surprise to many insurance applicants. But activities in your personal life can be every bit as dangerous and life-threatening as those in high risk occupations.
Prime examples of high-risk hobbies include:

  • Skydiving
  • Paragliding
  • Piloting private planes
  • Scuba diving
  • Any type of racing (including cars, motorcycles, and boats)
  • Surfing
  • Mountain climbing
  • Backcountry skiing

Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Each company may have its own designated list of hobbies they consider to be high risk, and worthy of a higher premium.

But high-risk hobbies don’t extend to casual participants. For example, if you tried scuba diving while you were on vacation, or attempted surfing three years ago, it’s unlikely your premium will be increased. Those increases are primarily reserved for those who are regular participants.

Can You Get Life Insurance if You’re Considered High-Risk?

Fortunately, there are ways to get high-risk life insurance without paying a crazy high premium.

Compare Companies That Offer High-Risk Life Insurance

First, you need to identify the companies that take the most positive view of your risk factor, whether that has to do with your health, your occupation, behaviors, or hobbies. Not all insurance companies rate risk factors on the same level. Some even specialize in certain high-risk niches, and will typically be the most affordable.

You can determine those companies by getting quotes through PolicyGenius directly from our website. The companies with the lowest premiums are the ones that specialize in the risk factor that affects you.

Minimize Risk Factors in Your Life

You should also do your best to minimize any other risk factors in your life. For example, if you do work in a dangerous occupation, make sure your overall health is good, and you don’t engage in dangerous behaviors or participate in high-risk hobbies.

Term vs. Whole

You’ll generally find that you’ll get more favorable premium rates on term life compared to whole life policies. This will be especially true if you are judged to be at high risk for health issues.

Since term policies run for limited durations, the company is less likely to pay the death benefit during the term of the policy. Not only will the premium be lower, but they’ll be more likely to approve the policy in the first place.

Guaranteed Issue

If you have multiple risk factors that you’re unable to mitigate with any of the strategies above, consider going with a guaranteed issue life insurance policy. These are small policies – with a death benefit of generally no more than $25,000 – and high premiums in relation to that benefit. But you’ll generally be able to get a policy when traditional insurance carriers say no.

Do You Need High-Risk Life Insurance?

From reading through the various risk factors in this article, it may seem as if most people fall into the high-risk category.

And while it may not be the majority, the number is surprisingly large. The combination of health, occupation, behavior, and hobby risks does take in a large percentage of the population.

Ironically, that can work to your advantage. Since so many people are in the high-risk category, there are many more insurance companies specializing in each of the specific risk factors.

That will increase the chance of not only having your life insurance application approved, but also getting it at a surprisingly affordable premium.

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