What is a table rating in life insurance?

Table ratings are used when a life insurance applicant has a serious health issue, risky occupation, or a dangerous lifestyle that increases their risk of premature death and places them outside of the standard rating classes. The table is used to calculate how much the applicant will pay for insurance beyond the standard rates.

"Table ratings can be given for medical and non-medical conditions," says Thomas Bigoski, owner of the Bigoski Insurance Agency in Gainesville, Va. "Some examples include high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and your combined height and weight, especially obesity. Other issues could be a history of mental illness or your occupation."

Life insurance companies typically assign debits and credits based on your medical history and other factors when calculating your premiums. For instance, if you have heart disease or cancer, that’s a debit. More debits mean higher premiums. If, however, you receive a credit for healthy blood pressure and cholesterol, these credits would decrease your premium.

Other factors can trigger a table rating as well. For example, if you have multiple DUIs or pilot a small plane.

While certainly not a definitive list, here are a few conditions that can trigger a table rating:

  • History of cancer
  • Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
  • Some types of criminal record
  • Previous heart attack or stroke
  • Mental health issues
  • Obesity

How do table ratings work?

A table rating allows insurers to consider additional risk factors when setting a policy premium. Instead of a preferred or standard category, table-rated applicants are given a number or letter that designates their rating. Depending on that table rating, they will pay an additional percentage on top of the standard rate.

While table ratings can vary between insurers, there is some standardization. Table ratings usually range from A to P or 1 to 16. Each letter or number usually adds 25% on top of the standard rate.

How a table rating affects your life insurance premiums

If you receive a table rating from an insurance company, you will pay more for your life insurance. How much more will depend on your rating.

Take a look at this sample life insurance table rating chart from Guardian Life.

Life insurance table rating chart
Rating ClassIncrease in premium over standard

This is how table ratings affect your premium. If you receive a table rating of 1 (some companies use “A”) you will be paying the standard rate plus 25% for a life insurance policy. Each letter or number you go up adds another 25%. 

"For example, if a standard premium for a term life policy is $100, if you have a table rate of 1 or ‘A,’ you will most likely pay 25 percent above the standard rate, or $125 per month," says Bigoski. "If you have a table rate of 2 or ‘B’ you will pay 50 percent above the standard rate, or $150 per month."

It should be noted that while most insurers use 25% per level as a standard, it is not a requirement and some insurers will use a different percentage.

What can I do about a table rating?

It's important to remember that risk is not standardized. Each insurance company has its own proprietary rating system. So, while you may be table-rated at one insurance company, you may qualify for a standard rating with other insurers, which makes shopping your policy important.

  • Shop around. If you have been table rated, shop for a policy with other insurance companies to see if you can qualify for either a standard policy or even a higher table rating. The premium difference between an "A" table rating and a "G" table rating is significant.
  • Accept and reapply. In most cases, you can reapply in the future for a lower rating if your health or other conditions improve. Most companies let you reapply a couple of years after getting a policy to see if you get a better table rating. For instance, you could get a better rating if you lost weight.
  • Change coverage levels. While this doesn't change the fact that you are table rated, if the premium is too high, change the coverage levels. If you lower the face amount of the policy or change the term length you can drive down the cost of coverage.
  • Ask for an explanation. You have the right to an explanation as to why you have been table rated. If you can provide evidence that the rating is incorrect or your health warrants a higher rating you may be able to improve your rating.
  • Ask about table shaving. Some insurance companies offer a “table shave” program that allows applicants to improve their health rating by up to two table ratings if they meet certain medical or lifestyle characteristics. These programs and the qualifications are set by each insurance company.

How does table shaving work? For example, a company may have 16 health credit factors available to applicants ranging from regular preventative medical care to being a lifetime non-smoker or having an income over $100,000. If an applicant meets four of the 16 factors, the insurer will improve their table rating by one table, going from a "C" to a "B," for example.

This can be a major money saver if you can manage to move up two tables.

Life insurance classifications

When you apply for a life insurance policy, your insurance company will examine the results of your physical exam as well as your family health history and lifestyle to determine if you fit into one of their standard categories or classifications.

Classifications or categories will vary slightly by insurer, but in many cases, there is some standardization. Typical categories include preferred select, preferred, standard plus and standard or regular. Smokers are categorized separately.

Here is a quick rundown of each category:

  • Preferred Select. This classification usually refers to the very healthy. To qualify for this level, you need to have a normal weight and height and no family factors that could lead to an early death. This category enjoys the lowest premiums and may also be called Preferred Elite or Preferred Plus.
  • Preferred. This category includes people with minor issues that disqualify them from the Select category. This class includes those in great health but with a family history of heart disease, for example.
  • Standard Plus. These applicants are still in good health, but a medical or lifestyle factor prevents them from qualifying for a Preferred Select. Being overweight, having high blood pressure or having high cholesterol could be the culprit.
  • Standard. This is for people of average health. They have a normal life expectancy and could have minor issues like being a little overweight or having a parent who died young.
  • Preferred Smoker. If you are a smoker who would otherwise fall into the preferred select category, this is your class. Smokers will always pay more for life insurance, so be prepared for a higher premium.
  • Standard Smoker. A smoker of average health will be placed in this category.

Life insurance FAQs

Are table ratings negotiable?

It’s your right to be informed of the reasons for the insurance company's table rating. You may submit a request to be underwritten again and provide a letter explaining why you believe the table rating is incorrect. However, you may be unable to negotiate with the insurer to change your insurance premium. 

Should you accept a rated offer?

It's up to you if you want to accept the rated offer. You can either reject the offer outright or accept it for temporary coverage.

Accepting the offer allows you to get coverage, but still shop around until you find something better.

Why do insurance companies use table ratings?

A table rating allows insurers to consider additional risk factors when setting a policy premium. The company can then offer an increased rate to people with higher risk levels rather than rejecting them outright.