However, shopping for life insurance based on rates shouldn't be the only deciding factor. With such an important coverage, you also need to consider the type of company you're buying from. This includes looking at their financial strength rating (FSR). Third-party insurance company ratings help you do just that.
What's an insurance company rating?
Life insurance company ratings are essentially the opinion of an independent agency regarding the financial health of the insurance company it rates. These ratings assess an insurance company’s ability to meet long-term insurance obligations based on a number of criteria such as debt ratio, diversification of revenue streams and risk management practices.
A.M. Best, Fitch, and Moody's are three independent agencies that rate the financial strength of insurance companies. While these reports can be very insightful as to the insurance company's financial rating, they are considered an opinion, and ratings of the same insurance company can differ among rating agencies.
It's important to note that each agency has its own proprietary rating scale and rating standards, as well as its own population of rated companies. And although each service uses an alphabetical rating scale, an A+ from one agency may not mean the same as an A+ from another.
For example, let's take a look at A.M. Best. This popular online service allows you instant access to an insurer's financial rating and, consequently, their ability to meet financial obligations to policyholders. Their particular rating process involves reviews of a company's balance sheet, operating performance and business profile, including comparisons to industry standards. It includes six ratings:
- A++, A+ (Superior)
- A, A- (Excellent)
- B++, B+ (Good)
- B, B- (Fair)
- C++, C+ (Marginal)
- C, C- (Weak)
- D (Poor)
- E (Under Regulatory Supervision)
- F (In Liquidation)
- S (Rating Suspended)
Why are financial ratings important?
An insurance company's credit rating indicates its ability to pay policyholders' claims. Imagine paying your life insurance premiums for years and when your family needs it the most, the insurer isn't able to keep its promise. As a consumer, you have the right to know the financial stability of the life insurance company that you're placing your trust in.
An insurance company’s financial strength rating is an assessment of the company’s ability to meet obligations in the face of economic conditions and changes in market value. Indicators commonly used to assess financial strength include net income, combined ratio and policyholder surplus.
How to get a financial rating?
To get rating information, visit the rating services' websites or call their customer service departments. Most rating services provide free rating information to consumers, although you may have to pay if you need several ratings. You can also ask your insurance agent or broker for rating information.
*As long as required premium payments are timely made.
Note: An insurer may have paid a fee to the rating agency.