Understanding the Life Insurance Application Process

By Kelly Boyer Sagert · June 08, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Understanding the Life Insurance Application Process

Applying for a life insurance policy often involves multiple steps and can take longer than getting other types of insurance. Let’s take a look at what’s commonly involved in the life insurance application process so you can proceed with confidence.

Term or Whole?

Before applying for life insurance, it’s a good idea to consider such things like how much coverage you need, how much you’re prepared to pay for premiums, and which riders you might like to include. You’ll also need to figure out whether a term life or permanent life policy makes sense for you. Whole life insurance is one type of permanent life insurance.

Term life and whole life insurance have important differences. Term life tends to be simpler and more straightforward. Someone purchases a policy for a certain dollar amount and term, and then has life insurance coverage for the designated time period (10, 20, 25, or 30 years, for example).

If the policyholder keeps up premiums and dies within that term, beneficiaries will receive the appropriate payout. Monthly payments are generally fixed with term life policies.

Reasons people choose term life include:

•   Term policies almost always cost less than whole life, sometimes significantly so.

•   Policyholders predict they’ll have enough money saved by the time the policy expires.

•   Beneficiaries are expected to be financially independent by the time the term expires.

Whole life policies, which also require regular payments, are intended to last the holder’s entire lifetime — there is no expiration date. They can cost up to 10 times as much as a term life policy because part of that money is invested into what’s called the policy’s cash value.

Policyholders can typically borrow against their cash value at an interest rate that’s specified in their policy. They may also be able to cash in their policy to receive money; that action closes out the whole life policy. Whatever is left over after the policyholder dies will be distributed to beneficiaries.

Recommended: 8 Popular Types of Life Insurance for Any Age

The Application Process

When you’re ready to get the ball rolling on obtaining a policy, the first step is to fill out an application with your carrier of choice. The insurance company will review the application for completeness. If any information is missing, they’ll likely follow up to ensure that the application is completely filled out. Some carriers may conduct a phone interview when someone applies, while others do so only if an application is incomplete.

Recommended: How to Buy Life Insurance in 9 Steps

The Underwriting Phase

Next comes the underwriting phase, which every applicant goes through. There are two tracts of underwriting available: traditional and accelerated. The traditional tract requires a medical exam, and your blood and urine samples may be collected. The accelerated tract typically does not require a medical exam or blood or urine tests.

During this time, the insurance company will review your application for a wide range of factors that may include:

•   Your age

•   Your gender

•   Your current health

•   Your personal health history, including prescriptions

•   Your family health history

•   Your lifestyle and personal habits (for instance, a history of alcohol abuse or tobacco use)

•   Your occupation

•   How frequently you participate in hobbies that could be considered high risk

•   Other factors, including your driving record

The insurance company uses this information along with actuarial tables to determine your risk profile, or how much of a risk you are to insure. Your risk profile can impact how much coverage you qualify for and at what cost.

Medical Exams

A life insurance carrier will sometimes require a medical exam before issuing a policy.

The exam may be similar to a person’s regular annual physical. A medical tech will likely ask questions that are similar to those on the application, and a professional will conduct a physical exam. It can include measuring height and weight, checking blood pressure, and taking blood and urine samples.

In some cases, an EKG may be performed to measure the electrical activity of the heart. Men over age 50 may need to have a prostate-specific antigen test done to check prostate health.

When medical exams are required in applying for life insurance, it’s part of the underwriting process that helps a carrier understand the risk level of insuring the applicant. The tests performed can indicate if a person has high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, elevated glucose, or other health issues.


Some people may be tempted to downplay personal health issues when filling out a life insurance application. That is never a good idea. If someone didn’t fully disclose the truth about their state of health and died within two years of getting a policy, the insurance company can delve into the details. If information is found to be lacking or inaccurate, the carrier could deny beneficiaries the death benefit.

The Takeaway

Applying for life insurance often starts with deciding how much coverage you need, how much you’ll pay in premiums, and whether a term life or permanent life policy is right for you. Once you’ve finished comparison shopping and weighing your options, the first step is to fill out an application with the carrier of your choice and then undergo an underwriting process. During this time, the insurance company will consider a number of factors, including your age, gender, current health, personal health history, family health history, and lifestyle. A medical exam may also be required. The insurer uses this information, along with actuarial tables, to determine your risk profile, which can impact how much coverage you qualify for and at what cost.

If you’re shopping for life insurance, SoFi has partnered with Ladder to offer competitive life insurance policies that are quick to set up and easy to understand. You can apply in just minutes and get an instant decision. As your circumstances change, you can easily change or cancel your policy with no fees and no hassles.

Complete an application and get your quote in just minutes.


Are there advantages to applying for life insurance when you’re young?

Yes, because carriers generally base policy price on risk factors, buying a policy when you’re young and healthy typically means lower premiums. Plus, with some term life insurance policies, buyers can lock in pricing when they purchase, and locking in at a low rate can be a financial plus.

Can I change the specifics of a life insurance policy — for example, change the amount of coverage?

Yes, some insurance carriers do allow this kind of flexibility. Current policyholders should check with their carrier. New applicants can check with the carrier to see what kind of flexibility is provided.

Is having employer-sponsored life insurance enough?

Maybe. While having this benefit is good, these policies are generally in the amount of one to two times an employee’s salary. That’s typically not enough to address debt and provide sustained financial help to beneficiaries, which is why it may make sense to purchase a second policy. Plus, employer plans may not be portable: If the employee leaves the company, the policy may be terminated.

What’s the right amount of coverage?

Each person’s situation is unique. Some use the DIME formula to determine the right amount. That acronym stands for Debts, Income, Mortgage, and Education. What will be needed to cover all of those bases? To streamline the process, you might want to calculate your life insurance needs.

Does it make sense to use an agent when buying life insurance?

Possibly. An agent can educate a consumer about what’s involved in getting a life insurance policy. This can be especially helpful if the process seems overwhelming. Many agents work on commission, so using one that does charge a commission can cause the cost of the policy to go up. Higher commissions are typically charged on whole life policies than on term life. However, not all agents charge a commission.

Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria.
Ladder Insurance Services, LLC (CA license # OK22568; AR license # 3000140372) distributes term life insurance products issued by multiple insurers- for further details see ladderlife.com. All insurance products are governed by the terms set forth in the applicable insurance policy. Each insurer has financial responsibility for its own products.
Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other, Social Finance. Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under Ladder Life™ policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy.
SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company.
All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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