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What is a Rating?

A life insurance rating is a metric that companies assign to insurance applicants based on their risk level. You might also hear a rating called a rate class, risk class, health rating, rate classification, or underwriting class. The better the rating the insured receives, the less their life insurance policy will cost.

How companies calculate ratings

Whenever an individual applies for life insurance, life insurance companies use underwriting to determine how much risk they pose. When it comes to life insurance, underwriting essentially sets out to determine how long, statistically, the applicant is likely to live.

The more years the insured is alive, the longer they’re able to make premium payments to the life insurance provider. That helps the company recoup costs before they need to pay out the policy’s death benefit at the time of the insured’s passing. In other words, the longer you live, the lower the risk you pose to a life insurance company.

Your rating gives the insurance provider a quick way to summarize your risk level. To determine your rating, they use the underwriting process to evaluate things like:

  • Your age and gender

  • Your personal and family health history

  • Your current medications and health diagnosis, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol

  • Your body mass index (BMI)

  • Your occupation and hobbies (to look for high-risk activities like skydiving or active military personnel)

  • Your driving record

Many life insurance policies also require the applicant to undergo a medical exam, including a blood and urine test. That way, the insurance company can check the individual’s health and see if they use tobacco or drugs.

Types of life insurance rate classes

Life insurance ratings and their names vary from insurer to insurer, but they generally fall into one of the below categories:

Preferred plus

Also called super preferred or preferred best, this top rating class indicates that you’re in excellent health and not doing anything that gives the life insurance company cause for concern. That means you have a healthy BMI, a clean driving record, and a family health history without any red flags. It also means your job is considered safe and you’re steering clear of risky hobbies like scuba diving, rock climbing, flying planes, etc.

If you make it into this top rating classification, you can expect to get the best-possible rate on your life insurance policy.


Individuals who earn a preferred rating are in great health and making low-risk choices overall, but might have one or two minor things that concern the life insurance company.

You could earn a preferred rating for being generally healthy but having slightly elevated blood pressure, for example.

While preferred-rated individuals won’t get rates as low as those who make it into the preferred plus category, they will pay less for life insurance than the average individual.

Standard Plus

The next step down finds you in the standard plus category. This essentially means that you’re healthier than the average person but dealing with a few things that give the life insurance provider pause. You might make it into the standard plus category if you’re in solid health but have a BMI that’s just above healthy levels or a family history of something serious, like cancer.

You might also be eligible for a standard plus rating if you have a diagnosed health condition – like diabetes or depression – but your doctor has documentation of you having it under control using your current treatment methods.


Most people fall into this category. A standard rating basically means the life insurance company expects you to live as long as the average person of your gender. You might have a family health history with some concerning elements or a higher-risk job, for example. Or you might have a driving history with a handful of accidents or tickets.

Because the life insurance provider expects average longevity for you, they charge you their standard life insurance rate for the policy size you choose.

Preferred tobacco

If you use tobacco products, most life insurance companies will charge you at least twice as much for life insurance. Still, though, you’ll pay less than the average smoker if you can make your way into the preferred tobacco rating class, which means you would be considered a preferred-rated individual if you didn’t smoke, vape, or for many insurance companies, chew tobacco.

Standard tobacco

People in this rating class pay the most for life insurance. This category means that you’re in standard health and you smoke cigarettes or pipes, chew tobacco, or vape.

In order to make your way from a tobacco rating to a non-tobacco one, you’ll usually need to be tobacco-free for a full year. To qualify for preferred ratings, you need to be clean for 3-5 years.

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