Some people love to dicker: They'll go well out of their way to shop at places where they can negotiate on price, partly to try for a better deal and partly because they enjoy the game for its own sake. That's a mentality that can serve you well when you're shopping for life insurance. Although rates for standard coverage are low, not everyone qualifies for standard coverage. Companies have a number of reasons to charge higher premiums, but shopping around can minimize the impact of a substandard rating.
Many chronic health conditions are hereditary, and so are risk factors for several more. Most life insurance questionnaires ask several questions about your family's medical history because it can reveal trends that affect your insurability. Some families carry genetic markers that predispose them to cancer, alcoholism, mental illness, high blood pressure and various other life-shortening conditions. If several members of your family have such conditions, most companies consider you to be a higher risk and increase their premiums accordingly. The increases vary according to your age and gender, as well as the health condition involved.
In general, fit and active people tend to be healthier and live longer than those who are in poorer physical condition. This is statistical bedrock for insurance companies, whose mortality and morbidity tables show the impact of physical condition on the likelihood of death or serious injury. If you lead a sedentary life, weigh more than you should and seldom see a doctor, you represent a higher risk to the insurance company and are charged higher premiums than an active person of appropriate body weight.
Diet and activity level are only two of the lifestyle factors that affect insurance rates. Tobacco use, most notably smoking, is another major cause of premium increases. This holds true even for second-hand smoke, if there's a smoker in your house. Risky recreational activities such as skydiving, rock climbing and scuba diving also can mean higher premiums. If your professional life involves similarly high levels of risk, either from the type of work you perform -- Alaskan crab fishermen spring to mind -- or because your work takes you into dangerous places, the insurance company might decline coverage or require a substantial premium.
If you're receiving high quotes because of these or other factors, don't be tempted to lie on your insurance application. The company can rescind your coverage if it learns you were deliberately misleading. It's smarter to take a proactive approach. Most companies lower your rates over time if you stop smoking, begin to exercise, lose weight, improve your diet and see a doctor regularly. Group coverage might reduce your costs in the meantime. Extreme sports often go by the wayside as you get older, eliminating another factor. If your job makes life insurance prohibitively expensive, ask your employer to provide workplace-based coverage as part of your compensation.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.