Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 16.
Two new studies out show that younger Americans would much rather travel, engage in a fine dining experience or buy a cell phone, among other purchases, rather than buy life insurance.
The data come from Vertafore, an insurance technology provider based in Bothell, Wa., which surveyed 450 millennials aged 18 to 35. Vertafore discovered "that although Millennials understand the importance of being insured, often times they willingly forgo coverage to avoid parting with luxuries such as TV streaming services, cell phones, or going out."
The study reports that although a majority of Millennials believe insurance is complicated and expensive, "more than three-quarters (77%) do understand that not having insurance is risky."
"Despite common misconceptions that Millennials are unaware and uneducated about insurance, our research clearly shows they value insurance but financial barriers and personal spending habits inhibit securing proper coverage," said Bruce Winterburn, vice president of industry relations at Vertafore. "As we begin the new year, now is a great time for millennials to align what they know to be true with the actions they take on insurance coverage. Their future finances depend on it."
Meanwhile, another study from Life Happens, an insurance industry consortium, reports a huge disparity in what Americans consider important, in relation to life insurance. "Americans pay $120 annually on cell phone insurance to protect an item that costs around $570 dollars at retail value," the report states. "Yet, 64% of Americans are unwilling to spend just a bit more -- $156 annually -- on level term life insurance policy to protect something priceless: loved ones."
Life Happens also reports that Millennials "continue to be an elusive target audience for insurers, as they not only presume the costs of life insurance to be the most, but also are willing to spend less in order to protect their loved ones compared to other generations."
Younger Americans say it's perfectly reasonable to bypass life insurance, although there are some gaps in logic attached to that rationale.
"Most Millennials feel their workplace life insurance is sufficient," says Emory Smith, an insurance specialist at EJS Financial Management and a Millennial himself. "But that said, most overestimate the cost of life insurance by a factor of three or more, and most don't understand the uses for life insurance and thus don't know what type of coverage fits their needs."
"Most don't know how simple the steps are to secure life insurance coverage," he adds.
Money matters, too, as always. Smith says most of his Millennial insurance clients are high-income earners who enjoy benefits of life insurance coverage beyond the pure death benefit protection. But many young American adults don't seem to care about that.
"With certain types of permanent life insurance, clients can contribute additional premiums over and above the minimum to enjoy tax free build-up of cash value inside the policy," he offers. "This 'savings' account can be accessed for a home purchase, college education, retirement or any other use. Permanent life insurance still enjoys the tax-free death benefit for designated beneficiaries."
Smith practices what he preaches. "I have $3 million dollars' worth of coverage for my wife and newborn son's benefit, and I can't imagine a husband/wife/parent not providing adequate protection," he says.
Money - in the form of pricing "anxiety" - is another big reason why younger Americans shy away from life insurance.
"We know from our research that there is a combination of factors that prevent Millennials from getting the life insurance coverage they need," states Marvin H. Feldman, president and CEO of Life Happens. "One of the biggest misconception is about price. The number one reason people give for not purchasing life insurance is that they think it's too expensive, but eight in ten actually overestimate how much it really costs"
Feldman points to the numbers as proof.
"Those aged 30 and younger think life insurance costs more than three times what it actually does," he says. "When they were asked to estimate the cost of the yearly premium for a $250,000 20-year level term life insurance policy for a healthy 30-year-old, the median answer was $500, when in fact it cost about $156. That's a big difference for people budgeting their money-thinking you need to pay $500 a year, when it's actually just a fraction of that."
Career issues come into play, as well. For instance, while some employer benefit plans offer life insurance, more often than not, the policy is not transferable if you change jobs.
"With many young people 'job hopping' as they build their careers, it's important to realize that the insurance you pay for today with one company may not go with you to the next job," says Judy Tanzer, associate vice president of new product development for Combined Insurance. "It's important to have back up. However, perhaps many younger professionals and couples don't realize this."
If and when you do go shopping for life insurance, Tanzer says it's important for young insurance consumers to meet with a life insurance sales specialist to determine how much coverage they need. "Insurance agents can provide a needs assessment," she says. "In general, it is recommended that you consider what your annual salary is and buy life insurance to cover five to ten years of that, should the unthinkable occur. Again, this can provide your significant other or family with the financial protection they need."
While the insurance industry would love to get more Millennials on board with life insurance, younger financial consumers continue to resist. That decision could come back and haunt them, because the thing about life insurance is this - by the time you realize you really need it, it's more than likely too late.