Were you on the phone with an enthusiastic broker who quoted you preferred plus rating for a life insurance policy only to find out six weeks down the road that the underwriter offered you a table 6 rating (about 150% higher)?

Did you think you had found the best broker because he never asked you any questions about your health history, medication usage, or even your height and weight and just quoted you the best rates with a smile and no hesitation? If you answered yes to these questions, you are not alone.

In this post, I will go over the life insurance risk classes, how they’re determined, and the risk class you can qualify for.

What Is Life Insurance Risk Classification?

Risk classification is a method the underwriter uses to determine your rates based on the risk of death you pose to the carrier. The risk selection and classification process is also called the underwriting process with which the insurer decides to offer insurance, how much to charge for it, or to decline coverage.

A fundamental principle in the insurance industry is that people with a similar risk of death pay the same premium—the higher the risk, the more you spend, the lower the risk, the lower you pay. It’s impossible to determine the risk of one individual with absolute accuracy, but if the people are assigned into groups, it’s easier to predict the entire group as opposed to one individual. These groups are called risk classes.

For instance, consider a situation where 100 people with type 2 diabetes bought life insurance. It’s safe to say that the same 100 people without type 2 diabetes or any other health issues would have a lower mortality rate than the first group with diabetes. It’s also a reasonable assessment to say that it’s impossible to predict one person’s likelihood of dying in either group. This is why you are assigned into groups (preferred, standard, or substandard) that conclude your prices and those of everyone else in the same group.

How Many Risk Classes Are There?

There are three varieties of risk class which most companies use to distinguish individuals: preferred, standard, and substandard. The preferred health class is for those who are in superior health, posing the least risk to the insurer, and therefore deserve the lowest rates.

The standard health class is where most individuals fall with a few minor health issues. They tend to pay normal prices for the same coverage. The substandard or table class is considered the riskiest one and has higher rates for individuals who have serious health issues.

It’s worth noting that the type of coverage you buy has different risk classes. For instance, if you buy term life, there are 12 different classes, but if you buy final expense coverage, you will find two or three classes depending on the company and the product.

Which Risk Class Can I Qualify For?

Each insurance company has its own underwriting guidelines they follow to evaluate the risk and calculate prices. The general characteristics in determining your risk class are age, gender, smoking habits, height & weight, overall health, and family history, just to name a few. Simply put, the risk classification process is meant to keep the insurance companies in business by charging applicants accurate prices based on risk.

Preferred Plus (non-tobacco)

Preferred plus is also called preferred best or preferred elite. Here are a few of the attributes an applicant must have to qualify for the preferred plus class. Bear in mind that only 5%–10% of applicants may be eligible for this group because it requires you to be in superior health.

  • Build: Within the carrier’s height and weight build chart. For instance, a male with height 6’0” can weigh from 136 lbs. through 207 lbs.
  • Diseases: No personal history of impairment or disease that would affect mortality, such as diabetes, cancer, or heart attack.
  • Tobacco use: No use of tobacco or nicotine-based products in the last 3–5 years.
  • Driving history: No more than two moving violations in the last three years. No DUI in the last five years.
  • Blood pressure: Currently controlled with average reading not greater than 136/86.
  • Cholesterol: Total cholesterol must be between120–300 and the HDL ratio may not exceed 4.5. Note that some companies will charge you more if you use medication to control the ailment, while others would not as long as it falls within the range.
  • Family history: No death of an immediate family member from cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, or certain cancers before the age of 60.
  • No high-risk hobbies or profession: High-risk hobbies such as skydiving or scuba diving or occupations such as firefighter or miners.

Preferred Plus (non-tobacco/tobacco)

The first thing you may have noticed is that smokers can qualify for preferred class but not preferred plus as a tobacco user. The preferred group is also linked to excellent health, and most of the attributes on the preferred plus section must be met for the individual to qualify for the preferred risk class.

There are a few exceptions such as being outside of the preferred plus for height and weight ranges or taking medication for high blood pressure or cholesterol without any complications and being fully under control.

Standard Plus

This individual has better than average health and may have some impairments such as depression with medication usage of two or less, or two moving violations or DUI in the last three years and still qualify for standard plus.


This is where most applicants are assigned. Some chronic illness, such as type 2 diabetes or being overweight, may be considered for coverage provided there is adequate control over the ailment and no other complications are related to the disease.


The substandard group has a higher mortality rate and therefore are paying the most for coverage. Individuals who don’t have excellent control over diabetes or had a stroke in the last six months may qualify for a table or substandard rating.

Most companies have tables from 1–8 or A–H with a few exceptions who offer up to table 12. Each table rating is 25% higher than the standard rate. For instance, if you got table 4, you would pay 100% over the standard’s price.

Underwriting Credits Program

Don’t get bumped down if you were quoted standard or substandard ratings. There are a few companies, such as Banner, Mutual of Omaha, or Prudential, that offer underwriting credit opportunities or table shave programs. These methods are intended to improve your risk class by offsetting your health challenges with favorable conditions that you may have.

For example, a carrier may use good blood sugar control to offset “debits” for diabetes, or if you are overweight with no evidence of metabolic syndrome, you could improve your ratings from substandard to standard and, in some cases, from standard to preferred. Bear in mind that credit opportunities are evidence-based decisions such as your medical exam or doctor records.

Risk Classes Sample Monthly Rates

40-Year-Old Male Nonsmoker on a 20-Year Term

 Health Class$100,000$250,000$500,000
 Preferred Plus$10.89$19.01$32.68
 Preferred $12.81$22.45$39.73
 Standard Plus$17.33$28.85$49.49
 Table A$20.37$34.77$60.58
 Table B$23.41$40.69$71.66
 Table C$26.46$46.61$82.75
 Table D$29.50$52.53$93.83
 Table E$32.54$58.46$104.91
 Table F$35.58$64.38$116.00
 Table G$38.63$70.30$127.08
 Table H$41.67$76.22$138.16

40-Year-Old Female Nonsmoker on a 20-Year Term

 Health Class$100,000$250,000$500,000
 Preferred Plus$10.20$15.44$25.25
 Preferred $11.26$18.92$31.11
 Standard Plus$13.93$23.84$40.09
 Table A$16.12$28.52$48.82
 Table B$18.31$33.19$57.55
 Table C$20.51$37.86$66.29
 Table D$22.70$42.53$75.02
 Table E$24.89$47.20$83.75
 Table F$27.08$51.87$92.48
 Table G$29.28$56.54$101.22
 Table H$31.47$61.21$109.95

Bottom Line

The object of life insurance is to provide financial protection against premature death. The policyholder pays a relatively small amount for an exchange of death benefit to be paid upon his death. However, not all individuals pose the same risks when applying for coverage, which is why insurers had to classify them into groups and charge them appropriately.

The higher the risk, the more expensive your premiums will be. The process of buying life insurance will never be as easy as purchasing ground coffee on Amazon. It requires an inquiry into one’s lifestyle, health, and goals before recommending a policy.

If you have an agent who doesn’t ask you any questions before quoting a product, you may want to look elsewhere. If you have a pre-existing condition or have significant health issues, you will need the help of an experienced broker who can shop for the best company who offers the best risk class for your situation. Give us a call today at 866-326-3053 or use our online quote engine on the right-hand side to run the quotes yourself; make sure to choose the regular health class.

Ready to Save 62% on Term Life Insurance?

You deserve comprehensive quotes from all companies; don’t settle for only one!

View My Quotes