There is significant opportunity to increase the level of satisfaction and security in workers’ compensation settlement cases. According to a pair of studies, it’s just a matter of better education regarding the use of Structured Settlements.
A study three years ago echoed the findings of a survey six years before; when people are informed about the benefits of structured settlements, the majority will at least consider the option. The reports also show that the people who are most influential to individuals faced with an injury award — attorneys — are either unaware of, or just don’t tell their clients about alternatives to lump sum payments. The surveys also found that many people who choose lump sum payments become increasingly sorry about that choice as the years go by.
Many Not Aware Of Structured Settlements
People often speculate about how they would take the millions they would get if they won a state lottery. Often the response is they would take the cash upfront instead of getting an income stream via an annuity.
The situation is similar for an injured person who is offered money to finalize a workers’ compensation or other type of claim. While a judge may mandate a structured settlement in rare cases, the injured person typically has a choice between a lump sum payment minus taxes, or a stream of tax-free payments paid out over the long term to pay their future medical expenses and basic living needs.
Structured settlements became legal as a way of compensating injured individuals in 1982. But the surveys show many people have little or no idea they exist or how they work.
Survey 1: 73% Choose Structured Settlement When Informed of Benefits
The first survey, sponsored by American General Life Structured Settlements was conducted in the Fall of 2007 and included more than 1,000 Americans, most of whom had not received or been connected to anyone with a major injury claim. They were given two scenarios and asked to choose a payout option.
- Scenario I: A 35 year old married worker with three kids is paralyzed from the waist down following an auto accident and is ultimately awarded $750,000. The respondents were given no information about structured settlements vs. lump sum payments, but were asked how they would take the money.
Sixty-five percent said they would take the lump sum payment while the other 35 percent opted for the structured settlement. Nearly half of the lump sum respondents did so because they believed they could make their own financial decisions. Another big reason was to pay off major debts, along with the flexibility of not being locked into an annuity.
- Scenario II: The 22-year-old widow of a husband killed in a construction accident is offered $2.5 million. But in this scenario, the respondents were given descriptions of structured settlements vs. lump sum payments.
The vast majority — 73 percent chose the structured settlement. Their main reason was that it provided a regimented stream of income for monthly expenses.
Interestingly, both groups cited two of the same reasons for their decisions: “guaranteed financial independence,” and “to avoid living on public assistance.”
More Than 50% Said Never Informed of Option
About 20 percent of the respondents to the survey either had been injured or had a family member who was. Most of them — 86 percent — had chosen a lump sum. More than half of them did not know what a structured settlement was, and said their attorneys had not informed them of the option.
Sadly, the majority of those who had taken lump sums said the money was gone. That mirrors the findings of a survey conducted in 2013, in which people who took lump sums found they had less money than expected as time went by.
Survey 2: Wished Had Taken At Least Some In A Structured Settlement
The second study involved 400 injured workers who had received settlements of at least $100,000 within the prior 10 years. It was produced by Prudential Global Strategic Research in conjunction with Prudential Structured Settlements. The sponsors wanted to know why someone would choose either payout option.
Lump Sum Chosen for Perceived Financial Independence & Pay Large Debts
The main reasons injured workers said they took a structured settlement were the tax advantages and a guaranteed rate of return, according to the Prudential study. Of those who said they were “very familiar” with the structured settlement option, 75 percent said they had considered it.
Those who opted for lump sums had done so largely because they hadn’t been informed about structured settlements. About 20 percent said the insurer had not offered a structure settlement as an option.
Financial Independence & Pay Off Debts Goal Most Likely To Regret Decision
Those who took the lump sums also said they did so to have financial independence and to pay of large debts. However, they were the most likely to regret their decision later and many said they wished they had taken at least some of it in a structured settlement.
The survey asked recipients of lump sum payments about their expectations regarding the money they had, within the first year of receiving the payment, 1 – 3 years after, 3 – 5 years after, and 5 – 10 years after getting the cash.
Within the first year, 35 percent said they had “much more than I expected,” and 5 percent said they had “must less than I expected.” But the figures were nearly reversed later. Among those who had received lump sums 5 – 10 year prior, just 6 percent said they had “much more than I expected,” while 25 percent had “much less than expected.”
Despite the belief by many that they can best manage a large sum of money, the reality is often different. Some spend money much more quickly than they envision; others make poor investment choices; while others discover that paying off large debts does not always result in financial independence.
Structured settlements are a compelling option for injured workers and others who want financial security throughout their lives. However, the lack of awareness and misconceptions lead too many people to choose lump sum payments, only to regret the decision later. It behooves all advisers of injured workers including attorneys, claims handlers, employers, and the population in general to understand the different payout choices and opt for the one that offers the best benefit.
Author Michael Stack, Principal, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
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