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Karen Stabiner Headshot

The 18 Year Old's Happy Birthday Insurance Policy

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Our daughter just turned eighteen, and, to celebrate, the bank that holds her checking account sent her a delightful little note. One of the advantages of being eighteen and having a bank account, it seems, is that she is eligible for $1,000 in accidental death [okay, I guess we'd have to pick up the check for that one] or dismemberment insurance from the bank's insurance-company partner.

Wait, it gets better. The letter says that for less than the price of a cup of coffee every day, she can get not just $1,000 but $100,000 in coverage. She doesn't drink coffee, but that's okay. For less than the price of, oh, a falafel - they don't mention falafels, but she eats them, so they come to mind - she can have as much as $300,000 in accidental death or dismemberment insurance. If she stays off coffee and keeps denying herself falafels, she can afford to have this coverage forever. Mind you, though, the benefits are cut in half once she hits seventy, despite the inevitable rise in the price of lunch and a hot beverage by then, to say nothing of the inflated rehabilitation costs a dismembered person would encounter in 2059.

She doesn't even have to mail in a payment for the coverage. The bank is all too happy to deduct her payments automatically.

What a life-affirming birthday wish.

What a dumb idea. First of all, who's going to be enticed by $1,000 for accidentally dying or losing a limb? My husband and I spent a surreal moment speculating as to what that figure was supposed to represent. Nothing, if death is involved, and next to nothing if we're talking dismemberment, given the cost of a standard doctor's visit, let alone the kind required when the patient is missing an appendage. Clearly, that's the point: The $1,000 is an actuarial amuse-bouche, a little morsel to stimulate an eighteen-year-old's risk-aversion taste buds and make her hungry for more, at which point she goes for the full $300,000 because it costs less than a falafel a month.

Once she develops an appetite for the illusion of security, insurers can come after her for the big-time moneymaking policies, like term life insurance, because of course her paltry $300,000 D & D policy is for death by accident, not death by illness or the ravages of time; she'll need another policy to cover that kind of demise, as well as disability insurance in case she used the lost limb for anything important, like walking, say, or writing. She'll need money to pay the mortgage and send the kids to college if she can't - and by the time her kids are grown, a college education ought to run about $100,000 a year, so she'll want insurance that costs as much as a whole week's worth of food, at least. That's not all. She'll get come-ons for long-term care insurance, insurance to cover funeral costs, and don't forget the health insurance that 40 million of us already can't afford - you know, the kind where 'out-of-network provider' is synonymous with 'every doctor you've ever met within a ten-mile radius of your home.'

She could start socking away her lunch money right now and have savings that last, instead of insurance that shrinks or disappears just as she gets old enough to be a bad payout risk, but that wouldn't make the insurance companies any money, which is probably why it wasn't one of the options listed under "Check One."

I will not forward this to her at the dorm - and if we throw a party when she turns twenty-one, you can bet we're not inviting the guys from the bank and the insurance company, who have proven themselves to be awfully self-centered on our daughter's special day.

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