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Life Insurance for Less

Safe driving and healthy living will lower your premiums.

Count life insurance among the many products and services that are on sale. A 40-year-old male nonsmoker can buy a $500,000, 20-year term-life policy for as little as $345 per year if he's in perfect health, or $455 if he's slightly overweight or has an elevated cholesterol level. So it's a great time to buy if you need coverage or to reshop if you have a policy.

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But not everyone gets the best rates. Some factors that determine premiums are beyond your control-your age and gender, for example. Younger people pay less, and so do women, whose longer life expectancies give insurers more time to collect premiums. But there are plenty of ways to lower your rates.

Check with your doctor. A condition such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes doesn't automatically mean you'll pay exorbitant premiums, as long as the condition is under control, says Jim Davis, vice-president of underwriting at Phoenix Cos. For instance, a diabetic who is not insulin-dependent and is otherwise in good health could get the standard rate.

Watch your weight. Poundage is a factor because obesity goes hand-in-hand with other health conditions. For example, a man who is 6 feet tall and weighs 205 pounds can usually qualify for the best rate, says Byron Udell, chief executive of AccuQuote, a Web site that compares term-insurance rates among providers. But adding just a few more pounds could mean paying a higher premium. Women who are overweight should apply to insurers that use unisex weight tables, which are geared more toward men's higher weight ranges.

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Drive carefully. "If you're breaking traffic laws, you're more likely to be involved in a life-threatening situation," says Udell, and that makes you a higher risk. Most companies want to know if youUve had a moving violation in the past three years, or a DUI conviction in the past five or ten years. Accidents wonUt raise your premium unless you were cited for a moving violation.

Play it safe. Working in a high-risk profession (think driving a fuel truck in Iraq), participating in hazardous sports (flying planes or scuba diving) or traveling to sketchy parts of the world will all result in higher premiums. But company standards vary. Genworth, for example, becomes concerned only if you'll be in a high-risk country for at least four weeks, says Ray Dinstel, chief underwriter for Genworth's life and long-term-care insurance.

Protect your credit history. Your credit history comes into play even when you apply for health insurance. If you've filed for bankruptcy in the past five years, that may be a strike against you.

Seek expert advice. Despite the general guidelines, standards vary from company to company. If you have a medical condition, you can get personalized help from AccuQuote by calling 800-442-9899. And Insure.com lets you compare underwriting criteria among various companies.

Ace the exam. You'll generally have to undergo a medical exam when you apply for a policy. To improve the outcome, fast for 24 hours beforehand; stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and fatty and salty foods; avoid doing a heavy workout the day before the exam; and get a good night's sleep so that you're rested and relaxed.

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