What factors affect disability insurance underwriting?

Disability underwriting is when the insurance company measures the risk that you'll become disabled and need to receive benefits

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Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

&Elissa Suh

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

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

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After you apply for disability insurance, you must go through the underwriting process. An underwriter evaluates your risk profile, by reviewing your job duties, income, and health records to decide if you're eligible for disability coverage. How they classify you will affect how comprehensive your disability coverage is and the premiums you pay for the policy.

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Underwriting has three main parts: financial, medical, and occupational. Your occupation greatly impacts your classification, with more hazardous occupations resulting in higher rates or limitations on your coverage. The underwriting process takes approximately four to six weeks, but an insurance broker can help guide you through the process.

Key takeaways

  • Disability underwriting begins after you submit your application for a policy.

  • The underwriter assesses your job, income, and personal information (age, gender, health, and hobbies).

  • You may have to talk to someone from the insurance company on the phone to provide more details during the process.

Your occupation

Your job has a large impact on disability underwriting and whether the insurance company considers you risky to insure. Some occupations come with higher chances of injury than others. An architect, for example, is less likely to get hurt on the job and file a disability claim than a professional athlete.

The disability underwriter will look at your work history and job responsibilities, then assign you an occupational classification (essentially a risk rating). Occupation classes usually have a number and letter designation (e.g. 1A to 5A) — a higher number means you pose less risk, which could also mean lower premiums.

How your occupation is classified can also differ between insurance providers, but they commonly take into account:

  • Job duties: Your day-to-day tasks matter in assessing your risk. The manager of a construction site has a less risky job than the employees doing construction work.

  • Employment history: Your seniority at a company and your salary can impact your classification. A senior manager will have a higher occupation class than a sales agent.

  • Occupation claim history: If you work in an industry that has a higher volume of disability claims, it may increase your risk factor.

→ Learn how to get a disability insurance 

Your income

Financial underwriting for disability insurance helps your insurer decide how much your monthly benefit should be if you make a claim. A disability policy is meant to protect your income, so the underwriter will look at your financial details to make sure you don’t under- or over-insure yourself (in other words, that you’re not buying too much or too little coverage). 

Disability underwriters also use your financial information to confirm that you can afford the premium payments. A higher income usually means you’ll get larger disability benefit payments, which could mean higher premiums, too. 

→ Find out how much disability insurance you need

When you apply for disability insurance, you’ll have to share tax documents with your insurer as proof of your income. The documents you need vary by insurer, but they’re usually based on the type of company you work for and your employee-status (like whether you’re self-employed or a business owner, for example). 

The chart below shows examples of common tax forms the insurance company may request as part of the underwriting process:

Employment status

Documentation needed

Non-owner W-2 employee

Most recent Form 1040 including schedules and W-2s

Non-owner 1099 employee

Form 1040, including Schedule C

Owner of sole proprietorship

Form 1040, including Schedule C

C corporation owner

Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return; 1099s; and W-2s

S corporation owner

Form 1040, with W-2s and relevant schedules; or Form 1120-S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation, with Schedule K-1 and W-2s

Partnership

Form 1040 with relevant schedules; or Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income, with Schedule K-1

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), single member, individual

Form 1040, including Schedule C, E, F.

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), single member, Corporation

Form 1120 or 1120-S

Students, residents, new professionals

Underwriter's decision

Your health & hobbies

Insurance companies look at your health history for signs that you might become seriously ill or injured and need to file a disability claim as a result. This takes into account information like:

  • Age: Premiums are lower for younger people.

  • Gender: Women tend to have higher premiums than men for disability policies.

  • Health and lifestyle habits: Smoking would be considered a risk factor

  • Hobbies: Dangerous activities, like scuba diving, will typically be added to your policy as an exclusion

  • Medical history: The healthier you are, the lower your premiums will be. Some conditions that might affect your disability underwriting include diabetes, heart attacks, and back issues.

  • Pre-existing conditions: Some medical conditions and illnesses like cancer may not be covered by your insurance company.

→ Learn how to get disability insurance with a pre-existing condition

In addition to providing your medical details in the application, your insurer may request a medical record from one of your doctors — called an attending physician's statement (APS) — that provides more context about your health, such as how well you're responding to treatment for an illness.  

Medical underwriting is one of the longer steps of the disability underwriting process because doctors can take some time to release your records.

When you get an individual disability insurance policy, you may be required to undergo a medical exam and drug test. (It’s usually not required when you get group disability insurance.) A medical technician can perform the exam in your home or work or at a lab to gather information about your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and more. 

→ Find out what happens during the disability insurance medical exam

quote

“Your occupation heavily impacts your premium classification. Both higher risk jobs and occupations that would be more difficult to work in due to a disability."

- Patrick Hanzel, Advanced Planning Specialist and Certified Financial Planner at Policygenius

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The disability underwriting process 

Some disability insurance companies offer simplified issue underwriting, which speeds up the approval process by skipping the need for financial or medical records, including the medical exam. 

Your eligibility for simplified issue disability insurance depends mostly on your occupation and age, and this type of underwriting may only be available to certain age groups. The benefit amount may also be smaller than what you'd get from a policy with traditional underwriting, but it depends on the insurer.

What happens after disability underwriting?

When the underwriting process is complete, you'll get an application decision from the insurance company. If you have a greater risk factor than expected, then you may be approved with some changes to your policy, which can include:

  • Additional premium (a flat fee to account for a risk factor in your history)

  • Higher premium than initially quoted

  • Exclusion for illness or injury from a specific event (injuries from skydiving, for example)

  • Lower benefit amount, shorter benefit period, or longer waiting period before payments start

Your disability premiums will also be affected by the amount and length of coverage you buy.

Disability insurance underwriting might seem complicated, but the experts at Policygenius are here to help. There's little you have to do after providing some initial personal information and have your medical exam. Your insurance agent or broker can keep you on track and informed throughout the entire process. If you’re thinking about buying disability insurance, you can get free quotes from Policygenius.

Frequently asked questions

How does disability underwriting work?

Disability insurers use underwriting to measure the likelihood that you'll become disabled and the company will need to pay you benefits.

How long does disability insurance underwriting take?

The entire underwriting process typically takes four to six weeks, though it can take longer if there are delays in collecting necessary information like your medical records.

What factors affect disability insurance underwriting?

Your occupation is a significant factor in disability underwriting, but your age, gender, income, occupation, and health also impact your insurability and rates when you take out a policy.

Authors

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

Elissa Suh

Senior Editor & Disability Insurance Expert

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Elissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

Expert reviewer

Financial Advisor

Maria Filindras

Financial Advisor

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

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