Survey: Men, Students, Parents Among Those Most Likely to Say Money Lies Are OK

Insurance, Life Insurance
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Maybe you binge watch “Mad Men” on your best friend’s Netflix account or fib about your child’s age to get a cheaper price at the buffet. To some, this dishonesty amounts to a relatively harmless gaming of the system.

But what do Americans think about lying when more money is at stake? A new survey commissioned by NerdWallet and conducted by Harris Poll among 2,115 Americans ages 18 and older finds that a surprising number of adults would even call a lie that could result in federal prosecution acceptable.

The survey asked Americans which of the following potentially money-saving lies are “acceptable” and which are “unacceptable”:

  • For adults to lie about their own or their child’s age to receive a restaurant or other merchant discount.
  • To make use of someone else’s account (such as Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime) to avoid subscription fees.
  • To lie about tobacco or marijuana smoking habits to receive lower life insurance rates.
  • To lie about income on a loan or credit card application.
  • To lie about the number of miles driven per year to receive lower auto insurance rates.
  • To not report under-the-table income to pay less in taxes to the IRS.

Key takeaways

What’s OK. A third (33%) of Americans say using someone else’s account information for online movies, music or articles to avoid paying subscription costs is acceptable.

What’s not OK? Lying and life insurance. Just 11% of Americans say lying about tobacco smoking habits for lower life insurance rates is acceptable, making it the least-popular lie among those tested. Men (14%) are twice as likely as women (7%) to say this lie is acceptable.

Gender makes a difference. Men are more likely than women to say most of the financial lies in the survey are acceptable — sometimes at twice the rate of women.

About a quarter consider lying to the IRS about under-the-table income acceptable. The lie with potentially the most serious consequences in the survey, not reporting under-the-table income to the IRS to pay less in taxes, is deemed acceptable by 24% of Americans. This second-most-popular lie in the survey could result in prosecution.  



 

Men are more likely to find lies acceptable than women

For most of the lies in the survey, men are more likely than women to consider financial dishonesty acceptable. In the case of lying to the IRS about under-the-table income, 30% of men and 18% of women deemed this acceptable. As well, 25% of men say lying about annual mileage for lower auto insurance rates is acceptable, but only 16% of women found that lie acceptable.

And men are more likely — at twice the rate of women — to deem the following two lies acceptable:

16% of men think it is acceptable to lie about income on a loan or credit card application, but just 8% of women agreed.

14% of men find lying about tobacco use to receive lower life insurance rates to be acceptable, compared with 7% of women.

Lying about tobacco versus marijuana smoking

In recent years, life insurance companies have become more amenable to marijuana smoking. The survey found that Americans are more comfortable with lies about marijuana smoking than tobacco habits when it comes to saving money on life insurance rates.

In the survey, 16% of Americans say lying about marijuana use to receive lower life insurance rates is acceptable, compared with 11% who say it’s acceptable to lie about tobacco smoking. Acceptance for lying about smoking to receive lower life insurance rates is similar across all age groups; however, older Americans diverge on this lie the most: Those ages 65 and older say marijuana lies to receive lower life insurance rates are acceptable (7%) over tobacco lies (3%).

Americans over 65 are less accepting of money-saving lies

Americans 65 and older are less likely to say that financial dishonesty is acceptable. The survey found that 11% of seniors say it is acceptable to use someone else’s paid account for online movies, music or articles to save on subscription costs, compared with 39% of Americans ages 18-64.

Just 7% of Americans ages 65 and older think it’s acceptable to lie about annual mileage for lower auto insurance rates compared with 23% of Americans ages 18-64.

Among all of the lies in the survey, the one that gets the most support from those 65 and older is not disclosing under-the-table income to the IRS in order to pay less in taxes — 14% say that’s acceptable.

Penalties, prosecution may not be a deterrent

Lying about a child’s age at a buffet is one thing, but willfully failing to disclose income in order to cut taxes is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Nonetheless, not reporting under-the-table income in order to pay less in taxes to the IRS was the survey’s second most-acceptable lie, with 24% of Americans saying this is acceptable. Men (30%) are more likely than women (18%) to find this lie acceptable.

Lying about income on a loan or credit card application, as well as lying to insurance companies to get lower rates, are also crimes, though rarely prosecuted. If a life insurance company discovers that you lied about smoking, for example, any payout to your beneficiary likely would be reduced by the difference between the rate you paid and the smokers’ rates you should have paid.

Here’s how many Americans think insurance and loan lies are acceptable:

20% say it’s acceptable to lie about annual mileage for cheaper auto insurance

16% say it’s acceptable to lie about smoking marijuana for lower life insurance rates

12% say it’s acceptable to lie about income on a credit card or loan application

11% say it’s acceptable to lie about tobacco habits for lower life insurance rates

Unmarried Americans, parents are more likely to see lies as acceptable

In general, unmarried Americans are more likely to be accepting when it comes to financial lies. The differences are most pronounced in those who find it acceptable to use someone else’s account to avoid paying for online subscription-based movies, music or articles (40% unmarried versus 27% married), and lying about marijuana use to receive lower life insurance rates (20% unmarried versus 13% married).

Having children also makes Americans more likely to fib for a discount. About a third of parents with children under age 18 in the household (31%) think it’s acceptable to lie about a child’s age to get a discount on a meal or other item, compared with 18% of people who don’t have kids. And parents with children under age 18 (18%) are twice as likely as those without kids (9%) to say lying about income on a credit card or loan application is acceptable.

Students are more accepting of lies

Students are more likely to say financial lies are acceptable, compared with Americans who are retired. For example, 13% of students say lying about income on a credit card or loan application is acceptable, compared with 4% of retired Americans.

Also, 62% of students in the survey say it’s acceptable to use someone else’s account credentials for online movies, music or articles, while 40% say it is acceptable for adults to lie about a child’s age to receive a discount.

For all questions, retirees had the lowest rates of acceptance of lies compared with students, employees and the unemployed.

Methodology

This online survey of 2,115 Americans ages 18 and older was conducted Feb. 18-22, 2016, by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet. This survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, contact Diamond Richardson at drichardson@nerdwallet.com.

The tables below show how people in the survey answered “acceptable” for lying in the eight questions.

‘Acceptable’ lies for Americans by gender and age

Percentage who found the lies below acceptableAll Americans
WomenMenAges 18-34Ages 35-44Ages 45-54Ages 55-64Ages 65+
To use someone else's account (e.g., Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime) to avoid paying for online subscription-based movies, music or articles33%32%35%59%37%24%21%11%
To not report "under-the-table" income in order to pay less in taxes to the IRS24%18%30%28%24%26%26%14%
For an adult to lie about a child's age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
21%19%25%36%27%18%12%7%
To lie about number of miles driven each year to receive lower auto insurance rates20%16%25%29%23%21%17%7%
For an adult to lie about his/her own age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
17%15%21%28%23%15%10%6%
To lie about smoking marijuana in order to receive lower life insurance rates
16%12%22%25%20%13%12%7%
To lie about income on a credit card or loan application
12%8%16%16%19%11%6%3%
To lie about tobacco smoking habits in order to receive lower life insurance rates11%7%14%17%13%9%9%3%

‘Acceptable’ lies by family and marital status

Percentage who found the lies below acceptable ParentNonparentMarriedUnmarried
To use someone else's account (e.g., Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime) to avoid paying for online subscription-based movies, music or articles41%31%27%40%
To not report "under-the-table" income in order to pay less in taxes to the IRS27%23%22%26%
For an adult to lie about a child's age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
31%18%18%26%
To lie about number of miles driven each year to receive lower auto insurance rates26%18%17%24%
For an adult to lie about his/her own age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
24%15%15%21%
To lie about smoking marijuana in order to receive lower life insurance rates
20%15%13%20%
To lie about income on a credit card or loan application
18%9%9%14%
To lie about tobacco smoking habits in order to receive lower life insurance rates14%9%10%12%

‘Acceptable’ lies by employment status

Percentage who found the lies below acceptable EmployedUnemployedStudentRetired
To use someone else's account (e.g., Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime) to avoid paying for online subscription-based movies, music or articles40%26%62%13%
To not report "under-the-table" income in order to pay less in taxes to the IRS28%19%30%17%
For an adult to lie about a child's age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
24%18%40%9%
To lie about number of miles driven each year to receive lower auto insurance rates24%15%29%10%
For an adult to lie about his/her own age to receive a discount at a restaurant or other place
20%14%35%8%
To lie about smoking marijuana in order to receive lower life insurance rates
20%12%26%8%
To lie about income on a credit card or loan application
14%8%13%4%
To lie about tobacco smoking habits in order to receive lower life insurance rates14%7%16%4%

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: elizabeth@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter. Diamond Richardson is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: drichardson@nerdwallet.com.

Infographic by Michael Belen.


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