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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers may not give the matter too much thought, but rates on life insurance vary widely, and the cost for most policies can rise rapidly based on a wide variety of factors — some of them avoidable.

Their formulas are complicated, but insurance companies cite key demographic factors and personal health and lifestyle habits that can affect policy costs:

Smoking. According to data from, smokers pay on average a whopping 235% more than non-smokers for the same life insurance policy. Over the course of a full year, smokers pay $1,462 more than non-smokers for insurance. Put another way, the average 45-year-old non-smoking female pays $45 per month for insurance, while a 45-year-old woman who smokes pays $167. Quitting cigarettes is a no-brainer for many reasons, but saving on life insurance (and health insurance) should be on the list.

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Age. Age is a big factor in buying life insurance. According to, 35-year-olds pay 27% more than 25-year-olds for the same coverage. That gap widens as consumers age, with 45-year-olds paying more than twice as much as 35-year-olds (in fact, 120% more).

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Men pay more than women. Men pay 38% more for the same life insurance as women, and at the same age. Insurers view men as a higher risk. (Men don't live as long as women, necessitating earlier insurance payouts, and generally have higher health risks than women.)

In general, consumers can also save by buying a life insurance policy as early in life as possible.

"You can save a lot of money by getting life insurance while you're young," says Laura Adams, a senior analyst at "By locking in a level-term policy in your twenties or early thirties, you will benefit from much lower rates while protecting your loved ones."

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You can also save decent bucks on a life insurance policy by keeping your weight down and joining a health club. Most insurance carriers offer specific price breaks for a good track record in both areas.

On the administrative side, you can save more by allowing your insurer to withdraw a monthly payment automatically from your bank account. Bundling life insurance with other policies should also earn you a price break.

The lion's share of savings on life insurance come from common sense, a healthy lifestyle and the timing of your policy purchase. Use all three to your advantage before you buy a policy this year.

— By Brian O'Connell