I’m often asked, after the fact, what it takes to get the best life insurance rates. While I would be hard pressed to cover everything that could be hiding in your medical records, I can provide a general rundown based on the exam, labs, family and personal history.

Generally a person can’t have used any kind of tobacco or nicotine products in the last 5 years. They test for it and while the test really won’t show anything more than a month or two old, medical records almost always indicate if a person is smoking or uses other types of tobacco. If you say no and die during the incontestability period due to lung cancer, you better figure they will be asking people who were around you prior to your death.

Family history generally holds the best rate at “No cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60″ for your mother, father and full siblings. A few companies say no death prior to age 70 and a few add diabetes to the before age 60 list.

A few companies allow blood pressure treatment for their best rate. Most don’t allow it. Either way, good control is a must with 135/80 being a pretty standard benchmark. Some allow 140/80. That’s actually pretty liberal. Most healthy folks are more in the 120/75 and under range.

Cholesterol treatment is being accepted for the best rate class by more companies all the time. That being said, good control is being looked at more stringently than ever before. The old benchmark for most companies was a total cholesterol of 220 and HDL of at least 40 giving a ratio of 5 or less. Some companies are going as low as 205 and a ratio of 4.5 for their best rate now.

The only cancer history acceptable at the best rate class is one instance of basal cell carcinoma. Multiple basal cells can be OK with some companies, but any other cancer history will end your chances for the best rate class.

Your driving record counts. Most companies won’t allow more than one moving violation in the last 3 years and yes, they will pull an MVR and check. Best case for the best rate would also include no reckless driving, DUI’s, license suspension or revocation in the last 5 years. Many companies are more stringent on the DUI topic.

Private pilots can only get the best rate from a few companies and they generally have to be well qualified. Instrument rating and enough total hours and annual hours to be considered experienced is a must.

Hazardous activities is kind of a crap shoot. Scuba diving can be ok if you aren’t going below 100′. Skydiving never gets the best class. Rock or mountain climbing, car or motorcycle racing and extreme sports will almost always bump you out of running for the best rates.

The last of the general underwriting guidelines is build. All companies have height/weight charts that they use and for the most part they run pretty much the same. Using my height of 5’10”, a sample of weights for best class are American General at 195, Banner at 196, Genworth at 193 and probably the most generous is Prudential at 202.

Bottom line. They don’t just ask how you’re feeling and give you a policy at the best rate. There are a lot of people who say these rates simply aren’t attainable, especially at older ages, but plenty of my clients receive offers in the best rate class and the oldest of those was 79 at the time.