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Life Insurance Table Ratings – How They Work

Written by Cody Marchant

So what exactly is a Life Insurance Table Rating, and how do they work?

I promise it’s really not that complicated. Table Ratings are just the technical term that people in the life insurance industry use to describe the rating system for risks in the life insurance application process.

Depending on a number of factors, you may be a higher or lower risk to life insurance companies. Overall, this risk is what determines your life insurance rates. Table ratings are a standardized way to classify the risks that people pose as policyholders to their life insurance companies. This risk represents the chance that their policy will have to be paid out.

Ok, I know it sounds tremendously boring, but a little life insurance education will up your chances of finding the most competitive product possible and the lowest investment on your part. It will help you sift through the marketing fluff and understand the true meat of what you are looking to buy. And if you are a smoker or tobacco user, it will give you an edge when you speak with an agent.

Before we dive into everything you need to know about life insurance table ratings for smokers, let’s take a quick second to outline what we will be discussing in this article:

What you will learn in this article (click to go to section):

What Factors Determine My Life Insurance Table Rating? 

So now that you understand what a table rating is, you are probably now wondering what those factors we mentioned above that affect your life insurance table rating are.

When it comes to life insurance table ratings, the main factors that affect rates are:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Occupation
  • Lifestyle
  • Family History

Each one of these factors plays a role in the rates you will pay for life insurance. Mainly, age, health, and family history play the largest role.

Depending on your health and medical record, you may have higher life insurance rates if you have a health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, etc… A family history of these conditions can also signify a predisposition for you to contract them, which can also change your table ratings and increase your rates accordingly.

When it comes to life insurance table ratings (for most companies), smoking typically puts you in a separate table rating from non-smokers and can increase your life insurance rates substantially.

How Does Smoking Affect My Life Insurance Table Rating and Rates? 

Well, it is no secret that smoking is bad for your health. With enough scientific data to prove this, life insurance companies typically charge smokers 2-5 times more for life insurance than non-smokers.

This is because for most life insurance companies, smokers have their own table ratings separate from non-smokers, which are already scaled up in terms of price in order to reflect their higher risk.  Even the healthiest smokers are likely to pay more for life insurance than those who are in decent health but do not smoke.

But don’t let this skew your view of life insurance for smokers.  Thanks to a large number of coverage options on the market, there are plenty of affordable life insurance options for smokers who are willing to take the time to shop around and do their research.

For more details on your tables ratings and life insurance rates, speak with an independent life insurance agent today who can help you compare rates from dozens of the best life insurance companies for smokers.

What Does it Mean to be Rated for Life Insurance?

Insurance companies are experts at life expectancy. When they evaluate you, they are trying to determine the odds of you dying prematurely or living beyond the average.

If you are purchasing a term life insurance policy, companies take these calculations and compare it to your policy with them to see what the chances of you outliving your policy are.

For permanent life insurance policies, they still run these calculations, but instead, base your rates on your life expectancy through the years you will be paying for the policy.

As we touched on earlier, when determining table ratings, life insurance companies will look at your family medical history, medical exam data, hobbies, occupation, and even driving record.

Each company has their own “secret formula” on how they determine this. Some will give greater weight to family medical history, others may put more emphasis on health habits, and some will use a height/weight ratio as the many determiners of rate.  This is why pricing and acceptability can vary widely between carriers.

While table ratings and rates may differ accordingly for different life insurance companies, one thing that remains fairly static between them all is the way that they classify their table ratings.

This rating system is often referred to as “life insurance health classifications”. This is the first step in the health risk classification process for life insurance companies.

Life Insurance Health Classifications

Life classifications are the big buckets where life insurance companies will rank you first. Everything you put on your application plus the data found in the medical exam will determine your life insurance health classification.

One thing you will discover is that after your medical exam your classification can change. It’s hard to know everything that is going on inside your own body, but the more honest you are with the agent prior to the exam will help keep your classification stable after the exam.

For people who need life insurance coverage quickly, or who feel as if a medical exam would only disqualify them from coverage or severely increase their life insurance rates, no exam life insurance policies are available.

This type of life insurance is great for those who have pre-existing health conditions that lower their health classifications and put them on the table rating system. No exam life insurance offers affordable life insurance coverage that is available within a week for people who may be in poor health or who need coverage fast.

For most life insurance companies, the life insurance health classifications are broken down into these 7 categories:

Preferred Plus

Some life insurance companies will use slightly different terminology for their own preferred plus ratings, calling them preferred best or super preferred or other variations of Preferred.

To be in preferred plus you must be excellent health with normal weight and height (according to their tables). There should be no other factors indicating any health risks. Many of these risks are determined through your medical questionnaire or a medical exam. On the medical exam, abnormalities in liver or kidney enzymes along with high cholesterol ranges will trigger health classification changes.

Even if you might all the health markers, many companies will move you out of preferred plus if you have any family members died from heart disease prior to 60.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t make Preferred Plus. Only about 5% of the population qualifies.


Health qualification for preferred is very similar to preferred plus except with the addition of one or two minor health issues.  Examples of a minor health issue would be medicine controlled cholesterol. Your family may have a history of cancer or other diseases. Some companies will even consider you in this class if you have dangerous occupations or hobbies. Like preferred plus you must be within the normal health and weight issues.

Standard Plus

Better than average health, but with minor health issues or slightly above the health and weight guidelines. High Blood pressure could also move you down from preferred to standard plus. If you have quit smoking within the last 12 months with no other health issues you will probably fall into this category.


This is the most common category. You have average health and may take multiple medicines. Your life expectancy is considered in the normal range. Your health and weight are outside the normal guidelines life companies develop. You also have a family history of cancer or other diseases. Death of a parent before 60 due to disease will also place you in standard.

Preferred Smoker

All life companies will have separate classifications for smokers. Smoker rates are at least 25% higher than their non-smoking counterpart. Often times, they are even higher, ranging from 2-5 times more expensive than non-smoker rates.

The one catch is how insurance companies define smoking. Many will consider any tobacco use as smoking, but others are much more lenient. Pipe and Cigar smoking is often acceptable if your smoking frequency is low enough. Even smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are considered non-tobacco by many companies. Marijuana cigarettes are also acceptable by some companies.

For more details on how life insurance companies view tobacco use and classify people as smokers, we wrote this article that explains all you need to know about who is considered a smoker, and which companies are the most lenient towards smokers.

Again the key here is to be honest with your agent and on the application. A good agent will know the guidelines for a wide variety of companies and will be able to direct you to the ones where you will receive the greatest benefit.

Specifics for qualifying will be:

  • Cholesterol ratio of 4.5
  • If you are over 60, you’ll have to perform a heart failure test and score under 100
  • Normal cardiac arrest test within the past 2 years.
  • Parents survived to 75 and no siblings with cancer or heart disease under 60
  • Healthy lifestyle factors – annual checkups and regular exercise
  • Liver enzyme test with scores below 30

The preferred smoker health classification requirements are identical to the preferred non-smoking category. The only difference is tobacco usage, and the rates they will pay.

Standard Smoker

You’ve probably already guessed the criteria on this one, haven’t you? It’s the same as the standard non-tobacco except for the tobacco usage. You are of average health with a steady diet of nicotine.

Table Rating

The last health classification for life insurance is where table ratings come into play.

What if your health history is worse than standard? Maybe you are a cancer survivor or have had a stroke or heart attack. You don’t even make into any of the life classifications. It may not even be your health, you could be in a high-risk profession or even high-risk hobby that pushes you outside the normal rankings. On top of it all, you are a smoker, which further hurts your life chances. What do you do?

This why life companies have table rating. Table rating is designed for substandard risks that don’t fit into the normal categories. Life insurance is still available, but pricing changes somewhat.

Companies use table rating per risks to charge appropriately for the different conditions may have. Each company will use a letter or number to assign the “table rating” to each person who falls below standard classifications.

How Do Health Classifications Affect Life Insurance Rates Change?

Here’s a good visual guide to how pricing works for each classification:

Rate Class / Risk Class * Basic Pricing
Preferred Plus / Best 50% of Standard
Preferred 63% of Standard
Standard Plus 86% of Standard
Standard Standard

How Do Table Ratings Affect Life Insurance Rates? 

Table Rating * Basic Pricing
Table A Standard + 25%
Table B Standard + 50%
Table C Standard + 75%
Table D Standard + 100%
Table E Standard + 125%
Table F Standard + 150%
Table G Standard + 175%
Table H Standard + 200%
Table I Standard + 225%
Table J Standard + 250%

If you thought there was flexibility with classification, companies are extremely variable in how they table rate each individual. Some carriers will allow a “table shave” which allows you to move up the table chart into better categories.

If you were given a table rating because past health conditions, demonstrating you have been compliant with treatment or have integrated healthy habits into your life may be enough for a company to “shave off” a couple tables.

For people who are in the table rating system for health classifications, it is extremely important that you work with an agent in order to find the best coverage.

Finding the right life insurance company may make the difference in thousands of dollars in coverage for you and your family, as well as thousands in savings on life insurance rates as well.

What Can I Do About My Life Insurance Table Rating (Even if I’m a Smoker)?

First of all, just because you are turned down by one insurance company, doesn’t mean you will be turned down by another. Every company has different underwriting guidelines.

If you try to find life insurance without help, you usually won’t know if the company will take you until you have fully gone through underwriting. That could take weeks and possibly months depending on medical exam result.

For people who are table rated, or who denied traditional life insurance coverage because of their health, no exam life insurance is still an option. This type of policy offers affordable life insurance coverage for people in this position.

Usually, no exam policies are available in face amounts up to $25,000, with some companies offering coverage up to $100,000. As the name implies, this is life insurance with no medical exam, and sometimes no health-related questions, depending on your policy.

You can shortcut this whole process by using a professional agent who represents more than one company. An agent will know the guidelines and appetite each company has and can direct you to the best possible option.

Finding the Best Life Insurance Companies for People With Table Ratings 

Ask your agent your final classification. If you have been “table rated”, ask the agent to advocate for you with company underwriting. Have them state your case for lifestyle changes and health improvement.

You may be surprised at the improvement in the rate you will receive. If they can’t guide you or help, you might have the wrong agent.

Be honest with your agent. Have a detailed conversation with them. Make them show you their work and where the companies they’ve considered for you. A great agent will help you find the best product.

If you are a smoker or have health issues or both let us guide you. We have contracts with the best life companies and will find the perfect fit for your situation.

Contact us today and get started comparing the best life insurance coverage for people who are table rated!

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About Growth 360, LLC
About Growth 360, LLC

We work with individuals across the nation to secure the best life insurance rates.

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