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Life insurance is a great way to protect your loved ones financially, but it’s also a major investment. Over a period of years, even a slightly lower premium can yield major savings. The following are some of the biggest factors that insurers consider when pricing out their policies. Some of these criteria are outside your control, while others are things you can remedy with simple lifestyle choices.

Age

Not surprisingly, the number one factor behind life insurance premiums is the age of the policyholder. If you’re young, the chances are that you’ll be paying the insurer for years before they ever have to worry about writing your family a check. Consequently, you’re better off taking out a policy before it’s too late. But that doesn’t mean you need insurance right after college if you don’t have any financial dependents.

Gender

Next to age, gender is the biggest determinant of pricing. Insurance carriers use statistical models to approximate how long someone with a specific profile will be around. The fact is that women, on average, live nearly five years longer than men. And because they’re usually paying premiums for a longer period of time than males, they enjoy slightly lower rates. Sorry, guys.

Smoking

Smoking puts you at a higher risk for all sorts of health ailments. So if you like to light up, it’s a red flag for insurance companies. In fact, it’s not uncommon for smokers to pay more than twice as much as non-smokers for comparable coverage. The effect on your pocketbook is another great reason to try and kick the habit.

Health  

The underwriting process for most carriers includes a medical exam in which the company records height and weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and other key metrics. They may also require an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to check your heart in some cases. It’s important to get any serious conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes managed before searching for coverage to ensure a competitive rate. Some companies do offer “no exam” policies, but you can expect to pay more. 

Lifestyle

Is your favorite pastime racing cars or climbing treacherous mountains? If so, you’ll probably have to shell out substantially more for insurance. Any time you engage in high-risk activities, there’s an increased likelihood that you’ll meet an early end – a big concern for carriers. Some companies also charge more if you have a relatively dangerous profession, such as mining, fishing or transportation. 

Family medical history

There’s not much you can do about your gene pool. However, a family history of stroke, cancer or other serious medical conditions may predispose you to these ailments and lead to higher rates. Carriers are usually interested in any conditions your parents or siblings have experienced, particularly if they contributed to a premature death. Some carriers put more emphasis on your family’s health than others, but it’s likely to have some impact on your premium.

Driving record

It may come as a surprise, but many life insurance companies look at your driving record during the underwriting process. Whether or not they ask about violations on the application, they can access Department of Motor Vehicles records to find out if you’ve run afoul of the traffic laws. Keep in mind that the last 3-5 years carry the most weight, so if you’ve improved your driving habits, you may benefit with a more favorable price.

The Bottom Line

Your life insurance quote is based on a number of factors, some of which may be beyond your control. When researching life insurance policies, it's important to assess your profile based in part on the above factors, and choose an insurer who is less likely to penalize people in your particular position.

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