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High-Risk Life Insurance

Licensed Life Insurance Agent/Staff Writer
May 19, 2020

If you’re labeled high risk when you apply for life insurance, it means the insurance company doesn’t think it can afford to insure you—at least, not as cheaply as it could cover the average person. Having a pre-existing health condition, a dangerous job, or risky habits or hobbies (such as smoking or skydiving) could place you in the high-risk category.

High-risk applicants often experience more challenges when buying life insurance, such as higher rates and fewer policy options. But the good news is that “high risk” doesn’t mean “uninsurable.”

Whether you’ve been labeled high risk or you’re afraid you will be, read on. We’ll go over what insurers consider especially risky and how to find the best policy if you fall into this category.

What does high risk mean?

In most cases, being categorized a high-risk applicant doesn’t mean you can’t buy coverage. But it does mean you’ll likely pay more than an average-risk applicant, and around double what a preferred-risk applicant would pay.

Preferred riskAverage riskHigh risk
a month
a month
a month
a month
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Table created using information from a Clearlink Partner. All rates assume a $250,000, 20-year term life insurance policy for a male. Rates are for informational purposes only. Average risk and High risk categories were calculated factoring in dangerous hobbies, family history of heart disease, and early death from heart disease. Actual rates may vary. Data as of 5/13/2020.

In addition to higher monthly premiums (what you pay for coverage each month), high-risk life insurance applicants may also experience the following:

  • A waiting period: You could pay premiums for several months or years before your coverage fully kicks in.
  • Fewer policy options: An insurer may approve a 10-year term life policy, but not a 20-year policy, for example. Or you may be able to purchase only low amounts of coverage ($50,000 or less).
  • Denied applications: Some insurers may decline to cover you altogether, but that doesn’t mean every life insurance company will.

Types of high risks

Insurance companies determine risk differently. What one company considers high risk might be standard for another. But there are several kinds of risks insurers look for.

High-risk professions

How you spend a third of your day could determine your level of risk—and your life insurance options. For example, if you are a soldier, you may be declined for coverage or offered a policy that won't cover death resulting from your work.

Dangerous professions often involve heights (roofers), risk of electrocution (electricians), roadside hazards (truckers), or all three (telephone pole repairmen). But there are plenty of other dangerous professions too.

If you have a dangerous job, consider these life insurance policies:
  • Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D): This policy covers you if you die or become seriously injured due to an accident.
  • Group Life: Many employers sponsor life insurance for their staff, especially if their employees do dangerous work. This coverage is typically cheaper than an individual policy you’d buy on your own, and eligible employees can’t be turned down for coverage.

High-risk health conditions

Pre-existing health conditions that are likely to result in high-risk rates include the following:

  • Invasive cancers
  • Heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Kidney disease, especially end-stage renal disease
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Diagnosed but untreated anxiety or depression
  • Any terminal diagnosis

Insurers discover an applicant’s health conditions by asking health questions, requiring a medical exam, and consulting the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). If you have a high-risk health condition, it likely won’t go undetected by an insurance company, even if you apply for a no-exam life insurance policy. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options.

If you have a pre-existing health condition, consider these life insurance policies:
  • Guaranteed-issue: The insurer will not refuse to cover you, but these policies usually have small payouts ($50,000 or less).
  • Group life: Most group plans don’t require medical information on the application or a medical exam. Instead, risk—and pricing—is based on the group as a whole. You could see lower rates than a policy you’d buy on your own.
  • Term life: Insurers may be more likely to approve you for a shorter-term (10-year) policy than a longer-term (20- or 30-year) policy. 

High-risk hobbies and habits

Insurance applications often ask questions aimed at assessing your habits and hobbies to see if those present higher-than-average risks. Insurers typically consider the following factors risky to insure:

  • Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or opioid use
  • Frequent travel to dangerous countries
  • Extreme sports, such as race-car driving, bungee jumping, or mountain climbing
  • Car accidents and moving violations on your driving record
  • A criminal record

These habits and hobbies suggest to the insurer that you are more likely to choose behaviors that risk your health or safety than the average person.

If you have a risky hobby or habit, consider these life insurance policies:
  • Term life: Taking risks means your insurance costs will be high, but term life is often the most affordable option.
  • Reciprocal life insurance: In cases of extremely dangerous behavior, you may not find an insurance company willing to cover you. Instead, you may need to turn to others like yourself who have the same penchant for taking risks—and the same difficulties finding life insurance. These individuals sometimes form reciprocal insurance agreements, in which you insure each other by creating a fund that pays your beneficiaries if you pass away. Lloyds of London is perhaps the best-known organization supporting reciprocal and other specialty life insurance.

How to find affordable high-risk life insurance

High risk isn’t the same thing as uninsurable. Plenty of companies insure high-risk applicants. You may pay more or have fewer options, but that makes finding the right policy and insurer even more critical.

Shop around

Life insurance companies measure risk differently, and each has its own guidelines for who to accept and how much to charge. To stay competitive, many companies specialize in insuring people with specific health conditions, professions, or habits. Transamerica, for example, has a reputation for low rates for tobacco users. And Banner Life has competitive pricing for people with asthma or sleep apnea.

Increase your chances of approval for an affordable life insurance policy by comparing quotes from multiple companies.

Work with a licensed, independent life insurance agent

If you’re short on time or have questions about how your health, job, or hobbies could affect your coverage, consider working with a licensed, independent insurance agent. Experienced agents typically know which companies specialize in insuring high-risk applicants and can request multiple quotes all at once, so you don’t have to keep filling out applications.

Get started today with free life insurance quotes.

Lower your risk

Finding affordable life insurance is possible for high-risk applicants, but you’ll improve your rates and chances of approval if you can move out of the high-risk category. 

If you have a pre-existing health condition, work with your doctor to improve your health. Many diagnoses, such as diabetes and depression, stop being risky once you see some success with treatment.

If you have an unhealthy habit, such as smoking or drinking, consider cutting back or quitting altogether. Some insurers will give you better rates if you take steps toward healthier habits. And if you are willing to hang up your parachute, bungee cord, or hard hat from a dangerous hobby or profession, do so, then reapply for life insurance in a few months.

We don’t want to tell you how to live your life. But insurers aren’t off-base when they predict a higher chance of death. They look at statistics and crunch a lot of numbers, so they could be onto something. Lowering your risk could mean a longer life—and a higher quality of life. So don’t overlook this strategy. We bet your loved ones will be even more relieved than your life insurance agent.

Written by
Kathryn Casna
Kathryn Casna is a licensed insurance agent and life insurance specialist who has appeared on The Simple Dollar and Best Company. On a weekly basis, she dives into complex life insurance topics to wring out genuinely useful information. When she’s not wrangling big ideas into easy-to-understand articles, Kathryn nerds out on budget-tracking spreadsheets and tries to coax her leash-trained cat to take outdoor adventures.