It’s no secret: The younger and healthier you are, the better the rates you’ll be quoted when you buy life insurance. Companies typically group buyers into one of several rates classes based on their health and the risk they represent.
The healthiest shoppers receive preferred rates — the best available. Most people qualify for standard life insurance rates, but some with serious health issues may only qualify for the worst, substandard rates, or be denied altogether.
But if you have chronic health problems and need life insurance, you shouldn’t assume you’ll be turned down. It may be easier than you expect to find coverage, and if you are declined by your first choice, you have other options.
Life insurance companies might be understanding
Life insurance companies all have their own underwriting standards, meaning some look more kindly on certain conditions than others. In general, you’ll raise red flags with a life insurance company if you have obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, depression or another chronic condition. Other problems, such as cancer, or multiple health issues can lead to high rates or even a denial.
But there’s good news for your life insurance prospects, as well as your prognosis: Medical advances have improved outcomes for many patients and, in turn, led to better rates. If you’re in remission, or your chronic condition is well-managed, you might be able to score standard or even preferred rates.
» COMPARE: NerdWallet’s life insurance comparison tool
Time is also a factor. A life insurer will likely turn you down if you apply shortly after a cancer diagnosis or a heart attack, but you can always reapply, especially if your medical records demonstrate that your treatment has been effective.
And if you are accepted but are being charged a high rate, you can ask for a new medical exam (and a lower premium) once your condition is under control.
The right agent can make a big difference
The first step to finding affordable life insurance with a pre-existing condition is to take care of yourself. If you have medication, take it. If you can exercise, do. Eat responsibly and try to keep your weight down. If you lead a healthy lifestyle outside of your condition, your premiums should reflect that.
It’s important that you look for an independent agent who works with an impaired risk specialist. An impaired risk specialist is a broker who’ll know which insurance companies are more likely to provide a good rate for your particular condition. This could save you a lot of denied applications.
Can’t get individual life insurance? You still have choices.
Even if you’ve been declined for life insurance, or can’t find affordable premiums for the coverage you want, don’t give up.
Many people — including those with health problems — can buy group life insurance through their employers. Coverage is typically limited to one or two times your annual salary, but you won’t have to take a health exam to buy it. Another downside is that you lose the coverage if you leave the job.
If you’re desperate for any coverage, you might consider types of life insurance that don’t require a medical exam, such as a simplified issue or guaranteed issue policy. These policies will typically cover you as long as you don’t have HIV or AIDS, don’t live in a nursing home and aren’t terminally ill. Keep in mind that you’ll pay much more for less coverage. For example, a 50-year-old woman buying guaranteed acceptance whole life insurance could expect to pay $85 per month for only a $25,000 benefit, according to NerdWallet research. Many guaranteed issue life insurance plans cap benefits at this amount. In contrast, a 50-year-old woman in good health could pay between $12 and $20 per month for a 10-year term life insurance policy with a larger $50,000 benefit.
Can’t get coverage through any of these sources? One option is to invest the money you would have paid in premiums yourself. The worst strategy is to conceal your condition from your insurer. (And remember that life insurers use many methods to identify fraud.) Misrepresenting your health on your application could jeopardize the life insurance benefit for your beneficiaries.
Alice Holbrook is a staff writer covering insurance and investing for NerdWallet.
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