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By

Andrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Edited by

Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.
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Reviewed by

Maria FilindrasMaria FilindrasFinancial AdvisorMaria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

Updated

Expert reviewedExpert reviewedThis article has been reviewed by a member of ourFinancial Review Council to ensure all sources, statistics, and claims meet the highest standard for accurate and unbiased advice.Learn more about oureditorial review process.

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What is disability insurance?

Disability insurance replaces your income if you’re sick or injured and can’t work. You can use your disability insurance just like your regular paycheck, so you can avoid falling behind on any expenses if you’re out of a job.

Short-term disability insurance can cover you for a few months, while long-term disability can pay out for years or even decades. Since about 1 in 4 people will become disabled before they retire, having disability insurance can be essential financial protection. [1]

→ Read more about how disability insurance works

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What does disability insurance cover?

Disability insurance covers most types of illnesses and accidents. While disability insurance won’t cover you if you can’t work because of a pre-existing condition, it will cover things like:

Complications from pregnancy

If you're temporarily or permanently disabled by pregnancy or childbirth, disability insurance can help replace your lost income.

→ Learn about disability insurance and pregnancy

Time off for cancer treatments

Disability insurance can cover your income if you're diagnosed with cancer and need to take time off to receive care.

→ Learn more about disability insurance and cancer

Injuries from an accident

Disability insurance can pay out for years or even decades if a car accident leaves you with back pain that makes it impossible to work.

→ Learn more about disability insurance and accidents

Disability insurance should cover around 60% of your income if you can no longer work. The income you get from an individual disability insurance policy is non-taxable, so the payouts from disability insurance usually come close to your actual take-home pay.

Who needs disability insurance?

Not everyone needs to invest in a disability insurance policy. Disability insurance is best for people who:

Save

Earn a high income and want to make sure it's protected if you get hurt or sick

Grad Cap

Have invested years of expensive education or training into their careers

Disability

Work a highly-specialized or physically demanding job

Think of it this way — disability insurance protects your income in case you can’t work. The more you earn, the more you have at stake if you become suddenly unable to do your job. 

Types of disability insurance

The main types of disability insurance are short-term and long-term disability. The biggest difference between them is how long the payments last.

Long-term disability insurance

Long-term disability insurance, which many people buy as an individual policy, can replace your income for decades, even up through retirement. And the benefit payments usually aren’t taxed.

Short-term disability insurance

Short-term disability insurance (which you may get for free through your employer) only pays out for a few months, but you don’t have to wait as long to start receiving benefits.

You can also get supplemental disability insurance, which adds even more protection to short-term or long-term disability policies. If you think your current disability insurance policy isn’t enough coverage to protect your income, you might want to consider adding supplemental disability insurance.

Some people may also be able to get Social Security disability insurance. This type of disability insurance is free, but it can be hard to qualify for and it doesn’t offer nearly the same benefits as a short-term or long-term policy.

→ Read more about the types of disability insurance

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How much disability insurance do you need?

You need to get enough disability insurance to keep up your current standard of living. That means you should consider your regular expenses and how much of each paycheck you usually put into savings to calculate the coverage you need.

You may want to consider an own-occupation disability policy for maximum protection. Own-occupation means the policy will still pay out even if you get another job, like if you’re a surgeon and your hand is permanently injured, but you're still able to teach.

An any-occupation or modified own-occupation disability insurance, won’t pay out if you can work another job, even if it’s not the same one you had when you were injured.

Disability insurance riders

You can also add riders to your disability insurance policy, which are additional coverages or changes to your current coverage. Some riders come at no extra cost, while you have to pay to add others.

Some of the most common disability insurance riders include:

  • Catastrophic disability benefit: Receive extra benefits if your disability keeps you from performing two or more basic living activities.

  • Cost of living adjustment: Increases your monthly payout as inflation rises.

  • Future increase option: Lets you increase your coverage later on without going through another medical exam.

  • Partial disability rider: Allows you to get some of your disability insurance even if you’re still able to perform parts of your job.

  • Retirement protection: Covers the contributions you normally made to retirement funds, like a 401(k) or IRA.

How to get disability insurance

  1. Figure out how much coverage you need Choose your benefit amount and how long you would want the payments to last.

  2. Consider optional riders Boost the protection you get from your disability insurance with add-ons, like a cost of living increase or partial disability coverage.

  3. Compare quotes Get disability insurance quotes from more than one company to be sure you’re getting the best rates.

  4. Fill out an application Be ready to give the insurance company your name, age, location, job, and income.

  5. Go through a phone interview The insurance company will ask about your medical history, your duties at work, any habits that could make you riskier to insure, and whether you have any pre-existing conditions.

  6. Complete any steps required by the company You’ll have to go through a medical exam, verify your income, and have a doctor share a statement of health.

  7. Sign your policy It can take four to six weeks to complete the whole application process before you can read and sign your policy and return it to your insurance company.

Sample disability insurance quote comparison

Comparing disability insurance quotes means you can see estimates from different companies that match your coverage needs and choose the policy that’s best for you. 

Let’s take a look at a sample disability insurance quote comparison:

Company A

Company B

Company C

Benefit amount

$9,000

$9,035

$8,912

Benefit period

To age 65

To age 65

To age 65

Monthly premium

$401

$388

$333

Elimination (waiting) period

90 days

90 days

90 days

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How much does disability insurance cost?

Disability insurance usually costs between 1% and 3% of your annual pre-tax salary. So, for every $100,000 you make, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,000 a year.

But what you pay for disability insurance also depends on a lot of personal factors, like how old you are, where you live, your gender, your medical history, and your job. 

The details of your disability insurance policy also affect how much it costs, like your:

  • Benefit period: The longer your policy pays out, the more you’ll pay.

  • Coverage amount: More coverage means more protection, but it also means higher rates.

  • Elimination period: Also called a waiting period, it’s the amount of time you have to wait between filing a claim and receiving your benefits. A shorter elimination period means higher rates.

  • Riders: Certain riders (like true own occupation coverage) can be more expensive than others.

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Frequently asked questions

What is personal disability insurance?

Personal disability insurance, also called individual or private disability insurance, is disability insurance that you buy for yourself rather than coverage you get through your employer. Group disability insurance is usually cheaper than a personal policy (it’s sometimes free), but you’ll get less coverage and you’d lose any benefits after finding a new job.

Where can you find long-term disability quotes?

You can get long-term disability insurance quotes from an independent broker, like Policygenius. You can also get a long-term disability quote directly from an insurance company.

Do you need disability insurance if you already get Social Security?

There’s no rule against receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and payments from a personal disability insurance policy. You may even be required to apply for SSD if you have disability insurance benefits.

What kind of person is disability insurance most useful to?

Disability insurance is most useful to people in high-paying jobs that require lots of specialized training, including surgeons, orthodontists, doctors, lawyers, and therapists.

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References

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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of oureditorial standards.

  1. Social Security Administration

    . "

    Facts about disabilities

    ." Accessed August 15, 2023.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Editor

Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Expert reviewer

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