Archive for September 1, 2009

Can an occasional smoker get non-smoker life insurance?

Here is an oldie but goodie from the life insurance question archives. Many people wonder if they can get non-smoker rates even though they smoke occasionally – or maybe they smoke a cigar or chew tobacco. The answer, as with many things, is complicated. Yes, but not always yes.

To illustrate the point about tobacco users getting non-smoker life insurance, I’ll get a little biographical. Back when I was an insurance agent the first time, I couldn’t see around this problem. If you smoked, used in any way, or brushed up against a tobacco leaf in the last 12 months, you were a smoker. When the company rolled out a new underwriting policy, I changed my tune. Now I thought anyone could get non-smoker rates, under the right circumstances.

See, even though I wasn’t a captive agent at the time, I was a “career agent” and sent almost all my business through that company unless I had a darn good reason not to. I remember talking to a friend who still worked there a year after I left. He asked me to help him on a case. And when I found a significantly better deal for his client, he didn’t take it because he wanted the production credit with the primary company. A lot of agents are in a similar situation. They may have access to a number of companies, but they have blinders on to what the rest of the world offers.

Then I left there and became the go-to-guy for other agents like I once was. At this time, I worked for a company that had high-level contracts with about 20 companies and I was an agent to agents. I quickly learned how small my world was. Giving non-tobacco rates to smokers and tobacco users was not unique; it wasn’t innovative. Non-smoker life insurance quotes for smokers was a well-worn niche of some well-established companies that I never bothered to know about.

Not only could smokers get non-smoker rates with the right life insurance companies, but there were plenty of other underwriting niches too. Some life insurance carriers liked heart conditions; others liked lung conditions. Some companies gave better rates for people with high blood pressure. I was surrounded by a growing list of niche facts for each company I now represented.

Although we tried to convey this knowledge to the brokers who worked with us, the information was too deep and we didn’t know their cases as they came in well enough to send them the exact right message. Not only that, but 20 life insurance companies is not that great. It’s more like a greatest hits album – good for some but not all.

I eventually moved back to being an agent again, free to find the life insurance niches that I wanted to. An when I was back in the field and had access to even more life insurance carriers, I still missed opportunities to find the best deal for smokers because I was surrounded by too many options again. Plus the information about tobacco users getting nonsmoker rates is always changing.

That’s why I tell people, whether you are getting life insurance quotes because you want a nonsmoker rate even though you use tobacco or for some other reason, try to get quotes from at least three different agents to compare. Only then can you feel confident you found the right one for you.

September 1, 2009 at 5:05 pm


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