Insurability is the probability of mortality based on assumed risk, whereas in life insurance, the basis is the health condition of the proposed insured. Your probability of mortality is the likelihood that your health condition will shorten your life expectancy. Mortality experience is death itself.

Underwriting is a confidential and private risk assessment taken by a proposed insured and reviewed by an underwriter on behalf of an insurer. Underwriting is the review of the insurability of a proposed insured from a completed individual life insurance application before the insurer issues a life insurance policy. The underwriter is the mediating party in the transaction of life insurance and the application is the risk assessment. The application is a part of the entire contract and consists of consumer reports from consumer reporting agencies and investigative consumer reports from associates of the insured. Consumer reports are current and historical medical examinations, medical records, and business or financial records. Investigative consumer reports are interviews by the proposed insured or personal references of the insured. The risk factors in the underwriting process ultimately help to determine your premium (insurance rate) and protects the insurer from moral hazard and adverse selection. Therefore, underwriting is a method for pricing as your premium is based on your risk class determined and varied per insurer.

A risk factor influences pricing. Risk factors in the underwriting process include your current health condition and prior health condition. Your current health is your physical and mental health at time of application. Physical and mental health are determined by your age, sex (gender), height, weight, tobacco usage, prescription drug usage, and medical impairments. Your current health is also determined by your residence, vocation (job or occupation), or avocation (hobby). In terms of prior health, underwriters review your personal and family medical history and alcohol and drug abuse history.

Risk in life insurance is the health condition of the proposed insured. A risk class is a rating category for a large group of people who have a similar risk to an insurer, and is a factor in the underwriting process. Although life insurance companies have unique underwriting guidelines, risk is uniformly classified as preferred, standard, substandard, and declined. Therefore, the risk class of the proposed insured can vary per insurer. A proposed insured with preferred risk is categorized in the lowest risk class, pays the lowest (preferred) rate, and has an abnormally longer life expectancy. A proposed insured with standard risk is categorized in the average risk class, pays the normal (standard) rate, and has a normal life expectancy. A proposed insured with substandard risk is categorized in the below average risk class, pays the highest (substandard) rate, and has an abnormally shorter life expectancy. A proposed insured with substandard risk is known to be rated or special class. A substandard risk occurs from a medical impairment or a risky vocation or avocation. A life insurance company may group a substandard risk as low, moderate, or high, and may insure a substandard risk by using a table rating and flat extra. A table rating is an alphabetical or numerical system used to insure a substandard risk by implementing a percentage increase in the normal (standard) rate. A low substandard risk increases the standard rate by 100% or less. A moderate substandard risk increases the standard rate by more than 100%, but less than 200%. A high substandard risk increases the standard rate by more than 200%. A flat extra is a temporary or permanent set dollar amount increase in premium per $1,000 of coverage. A table shaving is an attempt to lower a table rating. To avoid a table rating or flat extra, apply for simplified issue or guaranteed issue life insurance at the cost of an increase in premium. Table ratings and flat extras only apply to fully underwritten policies. To reduce the impact of a table rating or flat extra, reduce your coverage, adjust your term, or improve your health condition. A declined risk is a currently uninsurable risk. The risk the proposed insured is too high for the insurer to assume. A declined risk can become insurable. The declined risk may be postponed for consideration of coverage by an underwriter. Your financial consultant may submit an informal/trial/survey/abbreviated application on your behalf to receive a premium quote from an underwriter of a life insurance company based on information you provide to your financial consultant about your health before submitting a formal application. This is a way to shop around for people with medical impairments. Once a policy has been issued, there can be no change to your risk class without your consent. However, some insurers do offer underwriting reconsideration, a process that attempts to table shave after an elapsed period of time for both issued and quoted coverage.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual)


  • Ultra Preferred Non-Tobacco
  • Select Preferred Non-Tobacco
  • Select Preferred Tobacco


  • Non-Tobacco
  • Tobacco


Low Substandard
Table A25%
Table B50%
Table C75%
Table D100%
Moderate Substandard
Table E125%
Table F150%
Table H200%
High Substandard
Table J250%
Table L300%
Table P400%

United of Omaha Life Insurance Company (Mutual of Omaha)


  • Preferred Plus
  • Preferred


  • Standard Plus
  • Standard


Low Substandard
Table 125%
Table 250%
Table 375%
Table 4100%
Moderate Substandard
Table 5125%
Table 6150%
Table 8200%
High Substandard
Table 10250%
Table 12300%

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