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

  • Jul-03-2018
  • Cody Marchant

The thought of applying 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.

Generally speaking, the quicker the policy is to obtain, the more expensive it will be.  No medical exam life insurance is a perfect example of this.

In order to obtain the best life insurance rates, you may have to wait 2-4 weeks to be approverd for a policy.  Sometimes, this can take even longer, when complications arise.

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

It is essential to understand a bit more about the life insurance underwriting process in order to answer this question.

How Long Does it Take for Life Insurance to be Approved?

Depending on the type of life insurance policy you are purchasing, and a number of other factors, a life insurance policy 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?

The process of applying for and being approved for life insurance is as follows:

1. Application

Applicants usually apply for life insurance online.  Thousands of resources exist that compare the best life insurance rates for you in just seconds.

Often times, once the initial application is finished, insurance companies will have an insurance agent get in contact with applicants to ask further questions regarding their health, finances, and lifestyle in order to get the application process started.

Usually, the application process takes no more than 1-2 days, and often times can even be shorter than one day.

2. Underwriting

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

This is by far the longest part of the application process, as it is where the life insurance company does their due diligence to ensure they rate you properly based on your risk, and get you affordable coverage based on your risk profile.  This [processcan typically take 2-4 weeks, but can take even longer if complications arise, which we will discuss further in this article.

There are various degrees of underwriting such as accelerated underwriting and full underwriting, which we will touch on in just a little bit.
3. Policy Issued

Here, the life insurance company has now completed the underwriting process and will offer a premium rate that reflects the applicant’s overall risk.

Terms and guidelines of the policy are outlined so that the applicant understands their life insurance policy in full breadth.  The insurance agent acts on behalf of the insurance company for this step.

Typically this takes about 1 week after the policy has been underwritten.  This is mostly because a lot of paperwork needs to be done in order to finalize your policy, and the insurance company wants to be sure that they have everything right before issuing a policy.

4. Policy Signed

Now, the ball is in the applicant’s court.  With the policy fully outlined and understood, it is now their choice to sign the policy and become one step closer to having life insurance coverage.

Usually, an insurance agent will meet with you in order to go over the policy one more time, and get your signature.  From there, they will submit the policy through their branch, and that can take 2-3 days.

5. Policy in Force
Finally, after you have signed the policy, and 2-3 more days have elapsed, your policy should be in force.

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 risk of the insured.

This being said,

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

An underwriters main role is to ensure that applicants receive the lowest premium possible for the desired level of insurance coverage.  Insurance underwriters are responsible for getting the proper information of an applicant’s health records, credit history, driving records, medical history and more, 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 policy is over.

How Long is the Life Insurance Underwriting Process?

As I stated above, the underwriting process can be as quick as 24 hours or take up to a couple of months.

This really all depends on a lot of factors involving your profile and your needs in a policy. 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 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 one of the longest parts of the life insurance approval process, because so much must be taken into account.

The 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)
  • Marital status, children (if any)
  • If the applicant has life insurance already, and how much coverage
  • If the applicant plans on buying additional coverage from a third party
  • 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 at the DMV, 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 coverage 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 longer or shorter 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:


Accelerated Underwriting

This type of underwriting can be broken down further into simplified and guaranteed underwriting.

Simplified underwriting is underwriting that siskips the medical examination, but asks a few questions about the applicants overall health and history.

Guaranteed underwriting skips even the questions about health history, and as the name implies, guarantees coverage for all applicants.

As you can imagine, accelerated underwriting results in higher premiums because life insurance companies are taking on more risk.

Full Underwriting

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

This type of underwriting is comprehensive and is where you will find the most affordable rates for whole life and term life insurance policies alike.  It takes into account a long list of medical history from a medical examination, 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 Primary Care Physician and is essentially the same as a physical with a few additional questions and tests.  For larger policies, urine, saliva or blood samples are usually taken in order to uncover health conditions and the drug use/habits of applicants.

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 necessary part of the medical examination to ensure brain health.

If you are healthy and do not need insurance immediately, it is definitely the ideal type of underwriting for your application process.  

If you are healthy, you will definitely get much lower life insurance premiums than those who go through accelerated underwriting.

For policies that are fully underwritten, it can be hard to estimate the time of approval.  Barring any complications or discoveries made regarding your health, fully underwritten policies can take anywhere from 3-4 weeks.  With complications, it can take 4+ weeks.

Can You Get Away From Underwriting and Eedical Exams/Questions?

The short answer is yes, you can.

There is such thing as no medical exam life insurance policy, as I described above. As implied in the name, this type of insurance does not require a medical examination in order to open a policy.

As a result, however, the premiums are much higher for these types of policies.

This is largely due to the fact that insurance is entirely based on risk, and if they cannot properly assess your risk based on the results of a medical examination, they must protect themselves from the risk you may pose.

No medical examination life insurance policies usually run anywhere from 15 to 20% higher premiums than those with medical exams. However, in some cases, this figure can be much higher (2-4 times more expensive).

5 Factors That Can Slow 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:

1. 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.  Often times, the larger the firm, the shorter the time frame to be approved. This is due to the fact that larger firms have more resources available to conduct their research, and more technologically advanced methods of calculating risks.

2. 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 with 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 risk 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.  Often times, these cases can result in a 1-3 month extension in the life insurance application process.

3. Face amount

Depending on the size of your life insurance policy, and the coverage you need in the event of your death, your policy 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, sometimes the underwriting process can take longer than usual if additional background checks and medical examinations are needed.

4. 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.

5. 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, 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 afterward.  Don’t worry, you are not alone. These questions are asked very 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.  They may share information with third party underwriting agencies, however.  Though this is done with a very high level of scrutiny.

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

1. Motor Vehicle Report

As you could have probably guessed, this information comes from the DMV.  Mostly, it is used to determine your 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 in their past can expect higher insurance premiums as a result.

Additionally, they look for any speeding tickets, DUI, DWI, and other driving infractions that may determine you as a higher risk.

2. Prescription Database

Usually, the prescription databases that insurance companies access during the underwriting process are regulated at the state or federal level.  

3. 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 underwriters work with the MIB to obtain prescription and health history data to help assess risk.

4. 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.

5. Credit Check

This is mainly done in order to ensure that you 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 – Takeaway

To sum things up, the time it takes to be approved for life insurance varies 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 month.  

Typically, life insurance policies do not take longer than this to be approved, but when complications arise, it can take up to 8-12 weeks to obtain coverage.

For those in a rush and in poor shape who need coverage quick, no medical exam 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 underwriter’s job is to ensure that you get the best life insurance rate possible for the coverage you need.  So while it may seem they can take long at time, they are working for you, not against you.

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