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Life, Insurance…and Cocaine

By grace and the encouragement from friends and family, I’ve been sober for 20 years. As a teenager, I was curious about drugs and open to many experiences. The experimentation led me down a dark path marked by loss. Most significantly, there were lost relationships. I was riddled with insecurities and motivated by selfish gain. I survived an overdose, but others I knew weren’t as fortunate. There was also financial loss- tens of thousands of dollars, which was a lot of money for a teen. One drug I became familiar with was cocaine.

Teen drug use is as much a concern now as it ever has been. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “About 50% of high school seniors do not think it's harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice and 40% believe it's not harmful to use heroin once or twice.”

There are many addictions. “Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.” (Wikipedia) In my 20-year career as a Credit Counselor and Financial Educator, I’ve counseled many clients through consequences of “Retail Therapy”. You may not place shopping in the same category as cocaine use; though the consequences of compulsive shopping can be extreme.

Payoff, a financial wellness company who works at the intersection of psychology and finance, released a study showing “23 percent of Americans – and 36 percent of Millennials – experience a debilitating degree of stress surrounding their finances, resulting in pathological effects on their thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” According to a LendingTree survey, “Among people who earned $100,000 or more, 33% cited money as the cause of their divorce and the divorce led to additional debt for the majority of divorcees.”

If you or someone you love is battling an addiction, please seek help. I’m happy to help. Here are a few additional places to begin:

Frequently, the topic addiction comes up as part of financial coaching. There’s a great deal of emotion when discussing details of life. Peeling through the many layers takes time, empathy, and understanding.

Many of us hide our emotions “below the surface”

I’m grateful E V E R Y S I N G L E day for sobriety and for the people in my life who provide love and support.

Life, Consequences…and Cocaine.

Though 20 years of sobriety have passed, the consequences are still present. I’ve had many background checks for work. Each time I have to discuss my drug related police involvement. It keeps me humble.

My wife and I recently adopted a child, and the background check was thorough. It was stressful to consider the possibility that my drug past could prevent us from becoming adoptive parents. Fortunately, the adoption was approved and we now have a beautiful boy. As part of the significant life change, we reviewed our finances, which included life insurance. Even though I teach, council, and coach others through this “stuff”, I hate shopping for insurance. Underwriters want to know every last part of your life. More than just your current health status, they’re interested in any possible risk factors. Here are a few factors that can raise your life insurance premium:



Marital Status

Driving experience/record


Tobacco use

Aviation activities



Family history

Physical condition

Body Mass Index (BMI) - too high or too low is considered risky

…and Drug use

Yep! Life insurance companies want to know everything- and if you try to “bend the truth” they can deny a claim. Providing false information during your insurance application, it’s called material misrepresentation. According to the LA Times, “it’s responsible for two-thirds of disputed life insurance claims.”

Some people suggested that I not mention my drug use from 20 years ago. The fact that claims for loved ones likely would be denied aside, my personal policy is to be completely honest in all interactions.

When I told the insurance representative about my past drug use, it triggered more paperwork. The underwriter, which is the person responsible for assessing risk, determining how much coverage a client may receive, and how much they’ll pay for it. The information about my history doubled my annual premium! I wasn’t satisfied and provided a well researched response about why I was a worthwhile risk. The underwriter accepted my contention and accepted the original, lower premium. I found this process stressful, however well worth the nearly $20,000 savings.

Financial services and financial products can be difficult to understand.

Here are some helpful life insurance resources:

At this time, Consumer Reports doesn’t have life insurance ratings, they do have their Investment rating. Many of the large insurance companies are listed in their report. If you don’t have a subscription, check with your local library- many offer access with your library card.

Before purchasing insurance, make sure you compare rates. Different companies may offer better rates for your specific life situation. In addition to insurance brokers and insurers own websites, there are many sites to compare rates. Here are a couple: you don’t need to enter personal information is quick and doesn’t require personal contact information

It’s beneficial to research any product before a significant purchase. Life insurance is no different.


Through Matt Paradise Consulting LLC, I provide financial education to groups of all sizes and socio-economic backgrounds.

I’m passionate about helping people. I love developing and delivering personal finance programs. The high value projects I create have been refined over a 20-year career in Credit Counseling. I’ve directly helped more than 100,000 people reach financial goals like getting out of debt, improving credit, buying homes, resolving and preventing identity theft, saving, and balancing budgets.

I know what it’s like to struggle for survival. Moving out on my own at 16, “home” was any couch or floor offered by friends and strangers. Problem solving skills were developed out of necessity. As a lifelong learner, my financial life has been transformed through 20 years of formal training, professional development, and the collective wisdom of every person I’ve coached, counseled, and taught.

I find joy in creating —weather it’s designing solutions for complex financial challenges, making music, writing poetry or building Legos with my son.

Check out my website and let me know how I can create and deliver an engaging program for your employees, community organization, or group of any size.


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