How Your Weight May Affect Your Life Insurance Policy

Updated

Many factors affect your life insurance policy and your rates. Things like age, gender, and health history are major determinants. However, there is one other factor in particular that affects many Americans: their weight. Being overweight is a common trait, and it affects millions of people’s life insurance policies.

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Many life insurance companies use weight as an overall indicator of health, along with the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale. However, some companies take the BMI scale with a grain of salt since it doesn’t take into account a person’s family history (genetics), bone density, or overall muscle mass which all directly affect your health and BMI.

If you’re concerned about your weight affecting your chances of being approved for a life insurance policy, this article may put your mind at ease. We’re going to take the mystery out of the ways weight affects your life insurance by looking at life insurance weight limits, what happens if you lie on your application about your weight, how to shop for a life insurance policy if you’re overweight or obese, the best types of life insurance for overweight and obese people, and more.  

How Does Your Weight Affect Your Life Insurance Policy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American male is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 196 pounds. That would put him in the " overweight " category on the CDC’s BMI charts. If he gains seven more pounds, he’ll officially qualify as “obese.” Of course, there are many more factors that go into understanding someone’s health and wellness than a simple number on a scale. 

Still, even being considered obese at 203 pounds, our example male can easily find many life insurance companies that will sell him a policy. It’s only when he reaches 329 pounds that he will begin to be declined for life insurance by some insurers.

Similarly, the average American female stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 169 pounds. She’s also considered overweight by CDC standards. Based on her overall health, however, she can still qualify for preferred rates with some insurance companies. It’s not until she reaches 283 pounds that some insurers may begin to decline her application.

Each life insurance company has its own underwriting guidelines and its own “build chart” which lists the maximum allowable height and weight for each of its rate classifications. The maximum permissible weight changes with each one-inch height increment. The “best” classification is typically called “preferred plus” and offers the best rates to the healthiest applicants who are within certain height/weight ranges.

Luckily, even people who are considered overweight can qualify for preferred life insurance rates assuming there are no other health issues that would increase the premium, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, which are often linked to being overweight or obese.

That being said, extra pounds will lead to higher premiums in general. Life insurance companies charge higher rates to people carrying extra pounds because life expectancy decreases as weight increases. Remember, life insurance companies are in the business of making money.

Example Life Insurance Rates by Weight

It’s helpful to see these rates in practice to understand how they vary by weight. Let’s look at a real-world example from Nerdwallet to see how the average prices for a 20-year, $500,000 term life insurance policy for an average man or woman at various weights.

Man, age 35, height 5’9”

  • 196 lbs. - $310
  • 206 lbs. - $370
  • 216 lbs. - $412
  • 226 lbs. - $504
  • 236 lbs. - $593
  • 246 lbs. - $641

Woman, age 35, height 5’4”

  • 166 lbs. - $260
  • 176 lbs. - $314
  • 186 lbs. - $367
  • 196 lbs. - $473
  • 206 lbs. - $578
  • 216 lbs. - $595

The sample rates quoted are for an individual life insurance policy provided by a private company. Rates will vary by insurer. 

Is There a Maximum Weight for Life Insurance?

There technically isn’t a weight limit to qualify for a life insurance policy. While each insurer does have its own rating table with weight maximums based on each incremental inch of height, underwriters consider other factors when deciding on insurability, not just weight alone.

They will look at family medical history, lifestyle, whether or not an applicant is an “athlete,” tobacco and alcohol use, and more. One size doesn’t fit all applicants.

What Happens If You Lie About Your Weight on Your Life Insurance Application?

To put it bluntly, lying about your weight on a life insurance application is fraud. However, to be considered fraud, the lie must be intentional. Simply guessing your weight because you haven’t weighed yourself in months doesn’t qualify as fraud, though that doesn’t mean a life insurance company won’t hold it against you if a claim is filed.

Though it might seem minor, lowballing your weight by fifty pounds on your application when you just had your annual physical with your family doctor could quite easily be construed as fraud. That could result in the insurer canceling your application, rendering you uninsurable, and leaving your family unprotected.

In addition to your medical records revealing your health history, life insurance companies also gather information on each applicant from a source they use called the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). If you’ve ever applied for life insurance before, the MIB will have created a file on you, which will include your height and weight, which would tip off any company considering your latest application.

As you can see, it’s very difficult to lie on a life insurance application and get a policy issued. But, even if you do commit fraud and still get approved, you’re not out of the woods yet.

Every life insurance company has a clause in their policies known as the “two-year contestability period.” If you die during this period, the company has the legal right to reevaluate your application. If they find you committed fraud by intentionally misrepresenting your weight on the application, they have the right to cancel your coverage, which would mean your beneficiaries won’t receive the policy’s death benefit payout.

How to Shop for a Life Insurance Policy If You’re Overweight or Obese

Life insurance companies, agents, and brokers provide many online resources that will give you a selection of different types of policies and will also provide you with rates. The entire process of shopping for a life insurance policy can be completed online, including completing an application.

However, if you’re overweight or obese, the best strategy may be to find coverage through an independent life insurance agent specializing in helping people who insurance companies consider to be a higher risk. Independent agents represent many companies and can compare policies to get you the most favorable rating based on your height and weight. 

An agent may have you apply with more than one insurer to see what ratings they come back with. But even though an insurance company approves your application, you’re not obligated to accept the policy.

What Are the Best Types of Life Insurance for People Who are Overweight or Obese?

There are two types of life insurance that overweight or obese people should consider: traditional life insurance (term and whole life) and guaranteed issue life insurance. Traditional life insurance includes two types of policies, term life and whole life. 

Term life insurance

Term life insurance offers protection for a predetermined period, such as 5,10, or 20 years, and is the most affordable coverage you can buy. It provides a death benefit to your beneficiary if you pass away during the period specified in the policy. Unlike permanent insurance like universal or whole life, term life insurance doesn’t accumulate cash surrender value. 

Though term insurance is generally less expensive than other types of insurance, it does have one major drawback. If you outlive the policy’s term, you may not be able to qualify for another life insurance policy if you’ve experienced any health complications related to your weight or have developed any other health problems.

Some term life insurance policies have a guaranteed insurability option that will let you convert your term life policy to a permanent type of life insurance regardless of your current medical condition and without providing evidence of insurability.

A professional, independent life insurance agent can help you find this type of policy and determine how much life insurance you need

Whole life insurance

Whole life insurance is also available for people who are overweight or obese, but it’s more expensive than term life insurance. It costs more because it has several advantages. 

First, whole life insurance accumulates what is known as “cash surrender value.” Part of every dollar you pay in premiums goes into the cash value component of your whole life policy, which receives interest at a rate set by the life insurance company. Some insurers will also add annual dividends to the cash value, depending upon their profitability that year. 

Also, whole life insurance remains in force for as long as you pay the premiums, unlike term life insurance which expires at a point outlined in the policy. Finally, whole life insurance premiums never increase. Regardless of your age or any changes to your health, your premiums will remain the same with a traditional whole life policy.

Guaranteed issue life insurance 

Guaranteed issue life insurance is another option if you are overweight or obese and want to buy life insurance but have been declined when you’ve applied for a traditional term or whole life insurance policy. 

Guaranteed issue policies are the most expensive policies sold by life insurance companies because they assume a large amount of risk without underwriting. The insurer won’t ask you any questions about your health history or height and weight, and won’t require you to have a medical examination. 

Guaranteed issue policies are usually small whole life policies with limited death benefit amounts ($2,000 to $25,000), though several companies issue policies with death benefits of $50,000 or higher. 

The payout on a guaranteed issue life policy differs from a traditional life insurance policy that always pays the full face amount. Guaranteed issue policies have a “graded death benefit,” meaning that your beneficiary will only receive a partial death benefit payout if you die during the policies’ first two years.

Does Being Overweight or Obese Affect Premiums or Payouts?

As mentioned above, being overweight or obese may affect your premiums, but it won’t affect your beneficiary's payout of the death benefit. When a life insurance company issues a policy to someone who is overweight or obese, the insurer may charge higher than standard rates for the coverage. Rates will vary by insurer.

For example, a 200-pound overweight male might get a Preferred rating from Lincoln Benefit Life but a Standard rating from United of Omaha. But a 220-pound obese male with no other medical issues could receive a Standard Plus classification from Transamerica and get favorable premiums for a term life policy.

Once a policy is issued, the payout isn’t affected by a person’s weight or obesity. A life insurance policy is a binding contract in which the insurance company has agreed to pay a death benefit to a beneficiary named in the policy upon the insured’s death, regardless of the cause or pre-existing medical conditions, unless the policy expressly excludes it, such as suicide or being killed while committing a crime. 

How long it takes to get a life insurance payout depends on the life insurance company that issued the policy.

Once You’re Insured, Losing Weight Can Lower Your Rates

Losing weight in a healthy way, such as diet and exercise, and keeping it off for a year or two (depending on the life insurance company), may let you be moved to a more favorable rate classification. 

This can lower your premiums when you buy a new policy or ask your existing insurer to reconsider your rating. Health is a lifelong journey, so it’s okay to find your own path.

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