How Do Life Insurance Quotes Work?

Life insurance quotes seem straightforward. First, you enter the amount and type of insurance you want, then the software gives you premiums. 

There are several other factors involved, like health and the different underwriting guidelines between companies. Companies do not underwrite their policies equally, opening up strategies to save you time and money.

Quick Summary

All life insurance companies have different underwriting guidelines. This means that someone might qualify for a preferred health class with one company and standard with another

There are several ways to get accurate quotes, but contacting an experienced agent during your research can give you a place to start. 

How Companies Determine Premiums

Life insurance companies determine their rates based on a person’s age, biological sex, how much insurance they want, and their health. 

underwriting questions determining premiums

Age and biological sex have firm premiums associated with them. Women pay less than men. The older you get, the more an insurance company charges. You don’t have any wiggle room here. 

The amount of insurance also dictates the premiums. Reducing the benefits offers a simple way to lower premiums. 

The last factor, health, creates most of the confusion when it comes to life insurance premiums. It’s more subjective than the other elements, especially with pre-existing conditions. Although insurance companies pay their actuaries a bunch of money to make standardized underwriting decisions, making human health as objective as possible. 

The combination of factors determines your premiums – for the most part. 

Basic Health Classes

Most insurers have four basic health classes: preferred plus, preferred, standard plus, and standard. Then, you have the substandard classes. Underwriters apply these for various health concerns someone may have. For example, carrying extra weight can get someone what the industry calls a table rating. 

basic life insurance health classes

Table ratings usually run A – J or from Table 1 to Table 10. Naturally, each company has different guidelines with what qualifies for a table rating. Each increase in table rating (A to B or 1 to 2) adds roughly 25% to the policy’s premiums. 

On average, your premium will be the standard price plus 25% for each level of table rating. The chart usually looks something like the following:

Table ATable 1Standard + 25%
Table BTable 2Standard + 50%
Table CTable 3Standard + 75%
Table DTable 4Standard + 100%
Table ETable 5Standard + 125%
Table FTable 6Standard + 150%
Table GTable 7Standard + 175%
Table HTable 8Standard + 200%
Table ITable 9Standard + 225%
Table JTable 10Standard + 250%

You could pay an extra 250% on your premiums at a Table J/Table 10 health classification, which isn’t ideal. But, you can still get insurance to provide for your dependents should something happen.

On top of all of this, each class comes with its smoker class counterpart. You might see someone who is in average health receive a standard NT health class. NT stands for non-tobacco. However, if they’re a smoker, they’ll likely receive a standard tobacco health class. 

Tobacco and Cannabis

Tobacco ratings tend to double premiums. The consumption method doesn’t affect the rates so much as the consumption itself. 

It’s not the end of the world, especially if you’re in the process of quitting. Insurance companies will look back roughly 12 months on any smoking history. They want to see at least a year since an applicant’s last cigarette before offering non-smoker rates

The good news is that the insurer can change a policy from smoker to non-smoker rates after issuing it. 

Suppose that Mary is a smoker. She’s been trying unsuccessfully to kick the habit for years, but she finds herself needing life insurance. She goes through the application process and keeps notes on what her rates would be as a non-smoker.

Mary asked her agent about the documentation she’ll need to prove she’s quit for enough time to get better rates. She manages to quit for good two years after getting the policy. A year after her last e-cigarette, she and her agent submit the required documentation to the insurance company, and they drop the rates to non-tobacco. 

Cannabis works differently

Even though it’s legal for medicinal use in most states and legally recreational in some, most insurance companies still automatically decline recreational use. Medical cannabis will depend on the diagnosis. 

Roughly a dozen companies will issue policies to people consuming cannabis recreationally. Again, the method of consumption doesn’t matter. 

Some of these insurers go so far as not applying any penalty (including non-smoker rates) so long as the applicant consumes less than a few times a week. 

Unseen Variables

When researching life insurance prices, it seems easy enough to say, “I’m in good health for my age” and assume preferred rates. It can also be smart to play it safe and get some instant quotes at standard health class. That way, you’re pleasantly surprised if you have lower rates instead of being annoyed with higher ones. 

The tricky business comes in the form of chronic conditions and medical history. Even the little things like hypertension can affect your rates. The way companies assign health classes based on factors like this varies wildly. 

For example, let’s say that James has type 2 diabetes. Some insurance companies specialize in insuring people with diabetes. Other companies will insure diabetes but charge comparatively unreasonable amounts. James has to figure out which company to choose without any information about how companies underwrite diabetes. 

Insurers don’t make this information public – partly because it changes constantly. 

This is where James’ insurance agent comes in. His agent should know which companies offer the lowest premiums to people with diabetes. Some companies will offer a standard health class. Others will always assign table ratings. 

You can see how it’s tricky to compare apples to apples factoring in even common health concerns. 

DIY Quotes

You can get quotes easily without speaking to an agent first. In fact, it’s an excellent first step to get a ballpark idea of what your premiums might be

You can even get quotes right on this page using the Instant Quotes tool. 

life insurance quote processes

When you go to do this yourself, it’s a good idea to take a harsh approach to your health. Think like a cranky doctor because you will prevent unpleasant surprises when you talk to your agent. 

If you’re exceptionally healthy, try preferred instead of preferred plus. You can also give yourself a range between preferred and standard to get a rough guide. 

For curiosity’s sake, there is no harm in looking at different health classes and seeing how that affects premiums. It will also give you an idea of how much varying benefit amounts might cost.

Differences Between Quoted Premiums, Application Premiums, and Offers

Quoted prices have zero bearings on life insurance premiums. They exist to show you what you are likely to pay. The rates are real. The problem comes in through tricky underwriting guidelines. 

For example, someone decides they’re preferred plus health class, but in reality, they have several health concerns. In this case, they are not looking at accurate quotes.

If everything goes smoothly and you have a great agent, you should see the offer come back with the quoted premiums. We’ve even had offers come back with lower premiums than the quote

Remember that if the offer comes back with different premiums than the quote, it’s just an offer. You can reject it. All you have to do is tell your agent that you need something with lower premiums, and they’ll guide you from there. 

The other good news is that your life insurance medical exam remains good for six months to a year with most companies. That way, if one company sends you an utterly unreasonable offer, it’s fast and easy to apply with a different company that will use the same medical exam you already took. 

How Agents Fit Into Getting Useful Quotes

Your agent brings their experience to the table. They keep track of which companies offer the best premiums for which medical conditions. 

Agents can also get in contact with company underwriters if a unique medical situation comes up. They do this through an anonymous process called pre-screening. It’s the best way to get accurate quotes with medical conditions. 

The Best Way to Ensure You Get Accurate Quotes

The best thing to do is to be upfront with your agent. Share any medical issues, height and weight, extreme hobbies. (If an energy drink commercial shows footage of your hobby, tell your agent.) 

Your agent has seen just about every health condition and hobby under the sun. Nothing will shock them. It’s also their job to help you. Like you’d discuss medical conditions with your doctor, talk to your insurance agent. 

Your agent will use their experience to point you toward the companies offering the best rates in your case. 


Can I get a better rate than what I applied for?

Absolutely. You can quote yourself at whatever health class you want. The underwriter reviewing your application doesn’t care what the quote says. They look at your health and medical records. If those show that you’re healthier than the rate you applied for, you’ll get a better rate. 

What if I quit smoking?

Keep at it. The insurance company will want to see at least 12 months of non-smoking before they issue you non-tobacco rates. The same timeframe applies if you quit after taking out the policy. 

The forum for people with my medical condition said coverage was impossible. Is it?

Not necessarily. Many people apply through call centers or apply directly online. If they happen to apply with companies who don’t accept the condition or charge too much, they don’t have a guide toward better options. 

There is always a way to get life insurance. Sometimes it might be guaranteed issue life insurance, which accepts everyone. Other times options may be more limited. 

Health conditions are one of those things that make research a big part of life insurance. 


Taking advantage of an agent’s experience is the best way to avoid underwriting surprises. An honest conversation about health can mean the difference between a pleasant surprise on rates and a nasty shock. 

How Abrams Insurance Solutions Can Help

We pride ourselves on taking the time to help folks with medical conditions find the most affordable life insurance. Since we’re an independent agency, we work with over 70 of the industry’s top-rated insurance companies. That’s a lot of underwriting options to choose from. 

Give us a call today at 858-703-6178 to get free information on what your health class will likely be and which companies will offer you the best rates.