8 Ways to Game a Life Insurance Exam and Get a Better Rate

BA9GBE Doctor with a blood pressure monitor
Putting the doughnuts away and hiding the cigars won't likely help much if you're already an obese smoker trying to save some money when applying for a life insurance policy. Insurers can require applicants to take a health exam that includes blood work and a urine sample, giving an accurate picture of a potential customer's cholesterol level and if they have nicotine in their body.

For healthy life insurance policyholders, the differences in annual premiums can be hundreds, and possibly thousands, of dollars when compared to what people who smoke, drink to excess, are obese or otherwise unhealthy pay for the same coverage.

Unless you think far enough ahead -- at least a few months, if not a year -- before applying for life insurance coverage and lose weight in a healthy method over time and stop smoking for at least a few months, it can be difficult to have the healthy exam results you want. But there are some things to do in the hours and days before the exam that could improve your results.

Here are eight -- sometimes with an estimate of the potential savings -- from Thaddeus Dziuba, a chartered life underwriter at PRW Wealth Management in Quincy, Massachusetts.

1. Don't Smoke

This may be the best way to get the biggest discount, up to three times what a smoker would pay. "Somebody who has smoked their entire life for 50 years and then stops smoking for three months -- they're considered a non-smoker," Dziuba says.

But don't think you can get away with smoking just one a cigar at a celebration. "God forbid they smoke a big cigar one night before the big exam," he says. Smoking the night before or the day of the exam can also elevate your blood pressure.

Dziuba isn't suggesting that smokers lie on their applications and quit smoking a few months before the test. Carriers take into account a history of smoking when the person is examined, but the lab results only test for nicotine currently in the system, he says.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-A 50-year-old man seeking a 10-year term life insurance policy for $1 million in coverage will pay $1,200 a year for the policy if he doesn't smoke, and $3,600 as a tobacco user.%If possible, give the urine specimen before the blood pressure check because the elimination of fluids tends to lower blood pressure moderately. Also don't use chewing tobacco, snuff, a nicotine patch or nicotine gum.

A 50-year-old man seeking a 10-year term life insurance policy for $1 million in coverage will pay $1,200 a year for the policy if he doesn't smoke, and $3,600 as a tobacco user, Dziuba says.

Insurers will also ask you if you smoke. You can lie, which they may not check on unless the policy is for more than $1 million. But remember it's a contract, so if fraud is found within the two-year contestability clause of the contract, it can be declared void, and your heirs wouldn't collect.

If you're honest in the application, chances are you won't have any issues with a claim, says Tony Steuer, a life insurance literacy advocate and author of books on life insurance. Claim inquiries aren't always about fraud, but determining the legitimacy of a claim, Steuer says, sort of like an IRS audit. With larger death benefits, companies are more apt to investigate, or if they receive outside information or something looks suspicious, he says.

2. Fast

Don't eat overnight or at least two hours before the exam. Your underwriter will have specifics. Your final meal the previous night should be healthy and well-balanced. You may also be told not to drink anything up to four hours before the exam, though a small amount of water may be allowed in the hours before the test.

Dziuba advises clients to schedule exams for a weekday and not a Monday. A weekend of indulging in fatty foods and alcohol can boost cholesterol levels on a Monday.

3. Lose Weight

Don't try to lose weight fast. That will mostly get rid of water weight. But losing one to two pounds per week over a few months, or hopefully over a year, can help you drop from being a standard risk to getting a preferred rate -- a 15 percent to 20 percent difference in premiums.

The average American is overweight, putting them at a "standard rate" for insurance that basically means they're a little unhealthy, Dziuba says. Getting a "preferred rate" for being healthy and thus a good insurance risk can lower premiums by up to 20 percent, he says. "There's real benefits in being healthy and scoring good on a life insurance exam," he says.

4. Don't Drink Alcohol

Avoid alcohol for at least 12 and preferably 48 hours before the exam, because it can elevate blood pressure and adversely affect elements of the blood work.

High blood pressure can be the difference between a standard and preferred rate, a savings of up to 20 percent. But like all of these factors, if you have only one high-risk factor, it can help to have an underwriter arguing on your behalf that you're otherwise healthy and take care of yourself, Dziuba says. There are lots of gray areas, he says.

5. Cut Back on Caffeine

Limit caffeine consumption 48 hours before the exam, and definitely no caffeine that morning. It increases blood pressure and pulse rate and can provoke an irregular heart rate. This means staying away from coffee and tea and some soft drinks, cold remedies and pain medications.

6. Limit Your Salt

Salt can raise blood pressure by allowing the body to retain fluids, so limit its use in the three to four days before an exam.

7. Don't Exercise

At least don't go to the gym the morning of the exam, and preferably 24 hours before. Cardiovascular workouts can cause inaccurate levels of cholesterol levels, which can be another risk factor that can push you into a higher rating classification.

8. Relax

You've probably had this happen at the doctor's office: You're nervous about having your blood pressure taken, so your blood pressure reads high the first time you take it. Wait a few minutes and take it again, and it goes down.

Get a good night's sleep, arrive early for the exam and take a few minutes to relax before your blood pressure is recorded. If that doesn't work, ask for it to be rechecked at the end of the exam.

Remember, life insurance underwriting also includes your medical history. Insurers are expecting average people to apply for coverage, not super-healthy people. Still, following these steps could help lower your rates a bit if you're on the border of having high blood pressure or other factors.

"If everybody who took their insurance exams followed some of these steps, there'd be a lot less problems" getting insurance, Dziuba says.

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8 Ways to Game a Life Insurance Exam and Get a Better Rate
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