Why it’s Such a Pain to Buy Term Life Insurance

Settle in, because the typical term life insurance application process can take 3-4 weeks to complete. You’ll kick off the process by filling out your application, but then you may need to take a medical exam and then wait for the underwriting review to determine which rate class you are in. If you don’t have time to complete the typical term life insurance application process, you can choose a no medical exam policy and get coverage in two days or less, but you’ll pay higher premiums.

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Tim is a licensed life insurance agent with 23 years of experience helping people protect their families and businesses with term life insurance. He writes and creates stuff for QuickQuote and other insurance and financial websites.

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Benjamin Carr was a licensed insurance agent in Georgia and has two years' experience in life, health, property and casualty coverage. He has worked with State Farm and other risk management firms. He is also a strategic writer and editor with a background in branding, marketing, and quality assurance. He has been in military newsrooms — literally on the frontline of journalism.

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Reviewed by Benji Carr
Former Licensed Life Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021

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Buying term life insurance is not always a pleasant experience. Hard to believe, right?

Do you remember the last time you ordered something online and had it shipped to you? How long did you have to wait? Three days? Two? One?

You probably got your item fairly quickly, as most online merchants offer expedited shipping or at least try to get your product in the mail quickly. But let’s say, worst case scenario, you had to wait a week for a dress or a book you purchased online. For many of us, that would simply be unacceptable. Or, at least very frustrating.

We live in an instant-gratification world. Smartphones, texting, Twitter, UPS & FedEx — they all have us conditioned to getting what we want when we want it. Patience is in high demand and low supply these days.

And there’s the rub with term life insurance. It takes time to get it — with a few exceptions, one of which I’ll dish on later.

Go Ahead, Pack a Lunch

The typical application process takes 3-4 weeks to complete. And it’s absolutely possible to go beyond that if things get messy. Here are some real numbers from 2013 that show length of time in underwriting for customer applications we processed:

  • Average time in underwriting = 29 days
  • Fastest life insurance company = 22 days
  • Slowest life insurance company = 52 days

Underwriting is just one step in the process, and it’s almost always the longest. Your application will move through several steps:

Term Life Insurance Process


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Help Wanted!

Yes, there is good news to share as well. It’s not all doom and gloom.

You can help speed up the process. That’s right. Together, with your help, we can slash days – maybe weeks – off of this timeline. With a little effort on your part, it won’t seem like your application has run into a brick wall.

1. Compete the Application Forms

Do this on the telephone with the agent helping you or online at the company’s website. Don’t ask for an application to be mailed to you to complete later. Later never comes. Do it now and get the proverbial ball rolling. Next, ask if you can sign the forms electronically or by voice signature over the telephone.  Time saved:  several days, depending on your ability to procrastinate.  🙂

2. Compete Your Paramed Exam

Schedule your paramed exam with the agent on the telephone as well. Doing so will ensure you get a convenient time and you won’t have to wait for the examination company to contact you. Time saved:  5-7 days, at least. Understand what to expect from a life insurance medical exam.

3. Underwriting Review

This is a biggie. So many things can derail your application in underwriting ((learn more about what they look for here: Things Life Insurance Companies Look At). Regardless, the best advice here is to communicate regularly with your Case Manager, the person assigned to help get your application through. If she emails with a question, answer it with the information. If she calls, pick up the phone.

And if you happen to be lucky enough to have your medical records ordered by the underwriter, contact your doctor and let them know you need them to help – right away! Time saved:  anywhere from a few days to – literally – several months.

4. Signing Your Policy

Once you’re notified the application is approved and the policy is issued, the next step will be to sign final documents and pay for the policy. Ask if the policy can be delivered electronically (PDF) versus mail (paper). Once again, ask if you can sign the forms electronically or by voice signature. Finally, pay with a credit card or an EFT draft from your checking account, as opposed to mailing a check. Time saved:  3-7 days.

So, What’s a Sensible Person to Do?

There’s no doubt, if you have the time, purchasing term life insurance this way will save you money. The trade off for having the life insurance company underwrite and evaluate your risk is a cheaper policy, assuming of course you are in good health.

But if you find you are pressed for time or simply don’t want to wait through the process, non-medical term life insurance may be a better option for you. It’s typically more expensive, but you could have a new policy in hand within as little as 24-48 hours. And — no paramed exam.

Non-medical term life will cost you more, but remember — you’re trading cost for time and convenience.

Get Things Moving

So now you know how long the process can be. But more importantly, you have good, practical ways to help move things along. Try these tips the next time you apply for a term life insurance policy and watch as your application races along and smashes right through all the brick walls!

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