The Life Insurance Approval Process: How Long Does it Take?

  • Last updated Jul 27, 2018 at 11:02PM | Published on Jul 3, 2018
  • Richard Reich

The thought of applying for and getting approved for life insurance initially seems like a daunting task. But today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Magnificent technological strides in life insurance industry
have been made, allowing companies to create quick life insurance quotes specifically tailored to customers in minutes.

How long does it take for a life insurance application to be approved?

Depending on the type of life insurance policy you are purchasing, and a number of other factors, a life insurance application can be completely filled out and approved within 24 hours or could take a few weeks or even months.

What is the process for being approved for life insurance?

In order to be approved, most insurance policies must go through a process called underwriting, in which rates are determined based on the assessed risk of each individual.

What is underwriting?

Underwriting is the process by which insurance companies assess risk of an individual in order to determine premium rates. This is based on statistical analysis of multiple factors that are used to determine the risk of the insured.

This being said,

What is the role of an underwriter in an insurance company?

An underwriter’s main role is to ensure that applicants are charged the appropriate premium for the desired level of insurance coverage.  Insurance underwriters are responsible for getting the appropriate information from an applicant’s medical records, credit history, driving records, and more, and then using this information to determine the risk an applicant poses to an insurance company (i.e. what the chances of them dying before the end of the policy’s term.

How long does the life insurance underwriting process take?

As I stated above, the underwriting process can be as quick as 24 hours or take as long as a couple of months (or longer, in some cases).

The length of time it takes depends on a lot of factors involving your health and lifestyle profile. Follow along as I dive deeper into the underwriting process, the various types of underwriting, what to expect in the process, and how long the underwriting process can take.

What factors are considered in the underwriting process?

Before an underwriting decision is made, underwriters need to account for all elements that determine your overall risk.  If we look back to our underwriter definition, it becomes easy to understand why underwriting is the longest parts of the life insurance application process,.

There are quite a few factors that are taken into consideration during the life insurance underwriting process:

  • Health history, family health history, age, gender, height, weight
  • The purpose of the insurance policy (estate planning, final expenses, business, or individual life insurance).
  • The amount of the death benefit
  • If the applicant has life insurance already, how much coverage or if the applicant plans on buying additional coverage.
  • Occupation (more dangerous jobs are higher risk)
  • Income
  • Smoking habits, alcohol, hobbies, lifestyle
  • International travel

Each one of these questions regarding your health history and lifestyle helps insurance underwriters to determine the overall risk profile you have to the insurance company.  The higher risk you are in their eyes, the higher your premiums will likely be.

For instance, if you work on skyscrapers, cleaning the windows on the outside, 800 feet above the ground each day, you are probably a much higher risk than say someone who works behind a desk all day.

How long does it take for an underwriter to make an underwriting decision?

Depending on the type of life insurance policy you are looking for, there are a number of different types of underwriting you can go through in the application process.  Each one of these types of underwriting takes different amounts of time, based on the amount of information that the insurance company needs in order to properly assess your risk and premium.

The main types of underwriting in the life insurance application process are:

Guaranteed Issue

Guaranteed Issue life insurance is insurance that is offered to any eligible applicant without regards to their health status.  More often than not, this is for people who are in poor health. On average, guaranteed issue policies are usually small in face value, often below $25,000.

In this type of underwriting process, there is no medical exam, and no health questions, making the process very fast, but making the rates equally expensive as a result.

Usually, the application process can take as little as a few minutes, but can take up to a few weeks in some instances.

Simplified Issue

Simplified issue is the next step up from Guaranteed issue.  In this type of life insurance underwriting, applicants are asked brief questions regarding their health, but are still not required to take a medical examination.

Because this means most people qualify for coverage, as with guaranteed issue, rates are also expected to be fairly high.  The reason for this is that without proper knowledge of your health history, insurance companies assume the risk that you could die before your policy is through, leading them to have to pay out your policy’s benefit.  As a result, premiums for these types of policies are higher to reflect the higher risk taken on by the insurer.

For simplified issue, the process usually takes less than a week from application to approval, but can take longer depending on the company.

No Medical Exam Life Insurance

In no medical exam underwriting, as the name implies, no medical examination is required.  However, there is more information the insurer requires about your health, background and financial history.

It is common for the insurance agent or company to require you to be submitted for a background check in order to see any negative financial or criminal history.  Also, they check your DMV records to see accident history. Lastly, they will usually check prescription databases in order to get an idea of your medication history.  With some policies, the underwriter will also request access to your medical records.

The premiums on policies with no exam underwriting are lower than those of simplified and guarantee issue, but might be higher than those with more scrutiny in the application process.

Depending on the company, the third parties involved, and the medium through which you seek approval (online, phone, in person), this process can be completed in as little as 24-48 hours, or can take up to 1-4 weeks.

Fully underwritten

Fully underwriting in the insurance application process takes longer than the accelerated underwriting choices listed above.

This type of underwriting is comprehensive, and is included in whole life and term life insurance policies alike.  It takes into account the information on your application, your medical history from your personal physician(s) and combines it with background checks, prescription database information, DMV records, credit history and more.

In a fully underwritten life insurance application, a medical examination is required.  This is usually administered by a nurse. The exam typical consists of blood pressure readings, urine and blood samples, height and weight measurements and a medical questionnaire.

In some cases, where face values of policies are very high (usually in excess of $1,000,000), and/or the applicant has reached a higher age group (usually above 60), an EKG can also be a part of the medical examination.

If you are healthy and do not need life insurance immediately, it is definitely the ideal type of underwriting for your application process.  The reason I say this is because if you are healthy, and willing to take a medical examination and undergo a background, credit, driving record, and prescription check, and you know that all of your information will come back positive, you will undoubtedly receive a lower rate than an applicant who is not in similar health, with a similar background.

As far as time frame goes, it can be difficult to give an estimate for policies that undergo full underwriting.  The reason for this is because depending on the health conditions you have, Primary Care Physicians and Underwriters may have to go back and forth a few times until the insurance has all the relevant information needed to make a decision on your premium based on your risk profile.  This is usually the longest part of the underwriting process.

If the process goes smoothly, and you are able to secure a medical examination within 3-5 days, the life insurance application process could take as little as 2-3-4 weeks and as much as 6-8 weeks.  In some cases, even less with technological advances allowing doctors to send over information almost instantly.

Other factors that can slow down the underwriting process

During the underwriting process for a fully underwritten life insurance policy, there are a few factors that can slow down the underwriting process that you should be aware of:

The company you choose

The insurance carrier you choose often has a big impact on the time it takes for the underwriting and application process to be completed.  Some companies have done a better job than others in improving their underwriting processes and, as a result, they are much faster at approving applications.  We would be happy to recommend companies based on underwriting speed.

Additional health problems/conditions

Suppose you take your medical examination, and it uncovers that you have diabetes, cardiovascular issues, cancer, or some other form of unexpected health complication.  As you can imagine, this would raise concerns for an insurance company. As a result, they will want to take more caution when evaluating your risk profile.

This can often result in additional medical examinations, health questions, and waiting periods.  Due to the varying level of danger any number of health complications can bring to your well-being and therefore an insurance company’s bottom line, there is no telling how long the process can take in these cases.  Quite often, these cases can result in a 1-3 month extension in the life insurance application process.

Face amount

Depending on the size of your life insurance policy, and the coverage you need in the event of your death, your application can take a bit longer to review and approve.

As you can imagine, the larger the policy, the more eyes are going to be taking a look at it in order to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.  Usually, the magic number is $2,000,000. Any policy larger than this can be expected to have additional people besides just the underwriter and agent involved in the process.  This is just to make sure that, from the insurance company’s standpoint, they are doing everything they can to mitigate their own risk and secure you the best premium for the level of coverage you need.

As a result of this, the underwriting process can take a bit longer than usual.

Type of life insurance policy

Depending on the type of life insurance policy you are looking to open, there may be a longer waiting time and processing time associated with it.

A solid example of this are whole life insurance and indexed universal life.  Both of these policies can take longer in the underwriting process because they are policies that cover someone for life.  Inherently, this presents a whole new set of risks for an insurance company, and as a result, they do their due diligence in order to ensure they secure the best premiums for applicants while still protecting themselves based on your risk profile.

Your age

As I briefly touched on earlier, your age can be a big factor in the underwriting process. The older you are, the more health problems you can potentially have, and sadly, the reality is, the more likely you are to die.  As a result, people over the age of 50-60 can usually expect the underwriting process to be a bit longer than those who are younger.

Usually, as long as no additional health concerns are discovered through your medical examination and review of your medical records, your age can result in just a few additional questions and tests from your PCP, and lead to a week or two being added to the approval process.

How do underwriters get your information, and what are they looking for?

Naturally, with all this talk of background checks, driving records, health examinations, and medical history, you must have a bit of concern regarding how insurance companies access this information, and what they do with it afterwards.  Don’t worry, you are not alone. These questions are asked frequently.

It is important to understand that insurance agencies keep your information 100% confidential.  They do not share or report your personal information anywhere other than in their own internal records.

Also, they secure their data from very reliable, trustworthy, and high authority sources that are responsible for keeping this type of information up to date and secure.  Some of the commonly accessed reports by life insurance companies in the application process are:

5 reports used in the underwriting process

Motor Vehicle Report

As you could have probably guessed, this information comes from the DMV.  Mostly, it is used to determine a pattern of dangerous driving and car accident history. The more accident prone you are while driving, the more of a risk you are in the eyes of an insurer.  Applicants with frequent accidents and/or moving violations in their past can expect higher insurance premiums as a result.

Prescription Database

Usually, the prescription databases that insurance companies access during the underwriting process are regulated at the state level through PDMPs, which stands for Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.  Each state has their own PDMP, with the lone exception of Missouri, at the moment, which is currently in the process of approving one.

MIB Report

The Medical Information Bureau (MIB Group) is a non-profit entity in the United States and Canada that collects and validates medical information on people within their areas of operation.

Most insurance agencies work directly with the MIB to ensure that the information applicants give in the application process is valid and corresponds with their data.  This helps underwriters to do their job quickly, and protects insurance companies from fraudulent applications.

Background Check

Background checks can be conducted by numerous third-party sources.  For the most part, insurance companies are looking to see if you have any criminal history.  Depending on what history you have, you may be more of a risk in their eyes.

Credit Check

This is mainly done in order to ensure that you, in fact, have the resources and financial history to appropriately pay your premiums on time.  At the end of the day, an insurance company does not want to insure someone who is not going to pay their premium.

How Long Does it Take to Be Approved for Life Insurance – Take-away

To sum things up, the time it takes to be approved for life insurance varies, based on a number of different factors.  Depending on your age, the policy you are looking for, the type of underwriting you want, the existing health conditions you have, the company you choose, and other uncontrollable factors, the time it takes to be approved for life insurance can vary from less than 24 hours to a few months or more.

For those in a rush and in poor shape who need coverage quick, guaranteed issue life insurance may be the best option, but it comes with a hefty price as a result of the higher risk taken on by the company insuring you.

However, for those who are in no rush to get coverage, your best bet is to wait out the process, and try to be as helpful as possible when giving your information to your agent.  While the process may seem lengthy at times, there have been major strides made in the last 20 years to improve the life insurance application and approval processes. It is also important to remember that the underwriters job is to ensure that you get the best premium possible for the coverage you need.  So, while it may seem they can take long at times, remember that they are working for you -not against you.

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