It’s one of the most common questions that comes our way, and it’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer with any certainty. So, how long does it take to get approved for life insurance? Here is the definitive, once-and-for-all answer: it depends.

Disappointing, I know, but the reason the answer is almost always “it depends” is because there are many variables that go into applying for life insurance. Plus, it doesn’t really help that every insurance company under the sun has its own set of rules and restrictions in place for evaluating applicants. So although there is no single universal answer, you can still get an idea of what to expect. Here are some common questions about the application process that might help:

What’s the fastest way to get covered?

If you need coverage right away, your best bet is probably no-exam life insurance. To get traditional coverage, insurance companies require you to submit to a medical exam in order to get an assessment of your general health and to determine whether or not you are too high-risk to be eligible for coverage, and how high your premiums will be if you do qualify for life insurance. No-exam insurance policies allow you to forgo this process.

In some cases you can get approved for no-exam life insurance in as little as 24 hours. However, no-exam insurance policies tend to cost about 15-20 percent more on average than traditional life insurance policies, so they are best used as stop-gap measures for people who need coverage for a short, definite period of time.

No-exam buyer beware: Just because they don’t require a medical exam, it doesn’t mean you can lie about your health, or automatically qualify for coverage regardless of your medical condition. They will more than likely request your pharmacy records as well as a report from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB).

What about a traditional life insurance policy?

If you’re not in a rush, or just not willing to pay the higher premiums for no-exam insurance, a traditional life insurance policy is the way to go. But, with these it’s a little tougher to predict the timing. The general rule of thumb is, the more detailed and plentiful information you are able to provide, the faster the approval process will be.

In some cases you can get approved for a traditional life insurance plan in as little as two weeks. Here’s how it works:
If you complete and send in your application right away, your insurance provider could help you schedule a medical exam within the next 48 hours. After you complete the exam, an underwriter will be assigned to examine your lab results, and look over your application. If everything is in order and your underwriter doesn’t see any reason to request an examination of your medical records, you could be approved right away and your policy could go into effect in as little as seven days after your approval.

What if the underwriter does need to pull my records?

If something isn’t quite adding up on your application, or your medical exam proved inconclusive for whatever reason, your underwriter will likely request medical records from one or more of your physicians, which can take anywhere from a few days to weeks (and in some cases, months).

Since there are so many factors that go into this stage of the process (how backlogged your physician is, the specific factors your particular insurance company is looking for, your specific health condition and history, etc.) it’s really difficult to say, but you can expect it to take anywhere from 3-8 weeks on average from the time you apply to the time your policy goes into effect. But, as always, the more information you can provide, the better off you’ll be. Talk to an agent or broker today to inquire about their application process and discuss your options for getting the coverage you need.