How Is a Mortality Charge Determined and What Is It?

For starters, a mortality charge is the cost of pure life insurance protection, which is based on experience tables developed by actuaries and on actual mortality experiences.

It is the amount a company periodically charges the policyowner for the insurance element in the policy. Other expenses include a fee for policy administration, company overhead, and taxes.

Each company uses their own mortality charges, which are based on these tables, mortality experiences and other factors.

Larger companies determine their own mortality charges, while smaller companies rely on industry-wide statistics. As a result, there is a considerable rate variation among companies.

At first glance, that might seem strange since the industry uses pretty much the same data to develop their mortality rates. However, the difference in rates is quite logical.

Some companies specialize in writing coverage on those whose heath is substandard, while other companies take on specialized risks, such as smokers and those in hazardous occupations. Even so, there are still some curious anomalies.

For example, Company A might be more competitive at issue age 40, while Company B is more competitive at issue age 50

A company’s mortality experience is measured (by A.M. Best) at the rate in-which death benefits are paid, then compared to the company’s own actuarial expectations which are used to price the premium.

The difference in mortality charges among life insurance companies can have a greater impact on a policy’s performance than any interest return or dividend. However, this figure doesn’t change very often.

What should I ask about a company’s mortality experience?

-Is the company projecting actual, current experience or better-than-current experience?

-Do the mortality rates vary by product? If so, why?

-Does the company project an unrealistic increase in mortality expenses? If so, is it guaranteed?

The key is to determine which method is being utilized in a particular illustration; however, this is not an easy task. I recommend that you ask, and then get it in writing, if you can.

If you have any additional questions, email me at

Tony Steuer is an author and advocate for financial preparedness. Tony Steuer, CLU, LA, CPFFE, helps people make sense of the financial world in a way that’s easy for them to understand. His books including, “GET READY!,” “Insurance Made Easy,” and “Questions and Answers on Life Insurance,” have won numerous awards. Tony is the founder of the GET READY! Initiative which includes the GET READY! financial organization system, the GET READY! Financial Preparedness Club, GET READY! Podcast, and the GET READY! Financial Principles, a best practices playbook for the financial services industry. Tony served as long-term member of the California Department of Insurance Curriculum Board. Tony is regularly featured in the media including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fast Company, and other media. He has also appeared as a guest on television shows, such as ABC’s “Seven on Your Side.” Visit to join the GET READY! Financial Preparedness Club and access free resources.

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