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Survey: Some Americans Are OK With Lying About Marijuana Use When It Comes to Life Insurance

March 24, 2016
Insurance, Life Insurance
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Do you smoke marijuana? Your life insurer wants to know, and it appears that — more so than with tobacco use — some Americans are OK with lying about pot.

According to a new NerdWallet survey, lying about a marijuana habit to get lower life insurance rates is OK with 16% of Americans, more than those who say lying about tobacco use is acceptable.

Harris Poll surveyed 2,115 adults online in February about financial fibs, asking them to rate each lie on a scale of acceptability. There were eight questions in all, ranging from using someone else’s Netflix account to concealing under-the-table income from the IRS.

Tobacco lies considered less acceptable

The lie least likely to be called acceptable? Lying to a life insurance company about tobacco smoking habits to receive lower rates — 11% said that was OK. The survey didn’t ask respondents if they smoke, and negative views about smoking might have influenced responses.

The life insurance industry is changing when it comes to marijuana use. Some charge pot smokers the same rates as tobacco smokers, while others charge higher rates for pot smokers only if they smoke heavily. These practices vary by insurer and state.

Lying about tobacco smoking could mean a savings of about $1,000 annually on your life insurance, according to a NerdWallet analysis of average standard rates. But if you’re caught, there can be consequences.

Possible penalty for dishonesty

“The most likely course of action [from the life insurance company] is to reform the policy to adjust the premium to that of a smoker’s,” says Adam Beck, attorney and professor at the American College of Financial Services.

If a lie on the application is caught within the first two years of coverage, the policy could be canceled, according to Beck. After two years, it’s more likely that the death benefit will be reduced after the higher rates for a smoker are subtracted from the policy.

“One thing many people don’t understand is when you go to your doctor and disclose things, they’re writing all of that down in your medical report,” says insurance agent Ryan Andrew, who recently had a customer tripped up by those records, which can be obtained by insurers.

Medical exam can reveal the truth

Andrew says the underwriting process, the time before a policy is in place, is really about the life insurance company “playing detective,” looking for clues to the state of your health.

Even if a medical exam isn’t required, as is the case for some term-life policies, an insurer may eventually discover further details about your health. Dying of a smoking-related disease, for example, could trigger an investigation by the insurer. But Beck says this is rare, since it’s “not in their cost interest to investigate every death.”

“People applying for life insurance policies should always answer questions on their application truthfully,” says Whit Cornman, spokesman for American Council of Life Insurers. “If they knowingly misrepresent information, it’s their beneficiaries who could lose out.”

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

Image via iStock.