You may be able to get short or long-term private disability insurance, group insurance from work, or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The best option (or combination of options) depends on your health, job, and income. All disability insurance replaces your income if you can’t work because of an injury or illness.
Click on the name of each type of disability insurance to learn how to get coverage.
Private disability insurance: Private or individual long-term disability insurance offers the most protection and usually costs about 1% to 3% of your salary. It’s best for people who have a high-paying or specialized job, or dependants who rely on their income.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is free, but the work and disability requirements make it the hardest to qualify for. By themselves, the benefits you get from SSDI aren’t enough for most people to live on.
Employer-sponsored group disability insurance: Group disability insurance is usually available through your employer, and it’s typically affordable or even free. A group policy can be for short-term or long-term disability insurance, but you won’t have much control over your policy’s benefit amount or length.
How to get private disability insurance
A private or individual disability insurance policy is the most reliable form of income protection because it doesn’t have the same limitations as a policy from your employer or the government. Here’s how to get private disability insurance:
1. Decide which type of policy to buy
First, you have to decide which type of disability insurance you need. There are two main types of private disability insurance:
Both long-term and short-term disability insurance replace about 60% of your income and both cost around the same amount. But short-term disability insurance lasts only up to one year, while you can get long-term disability insurance that pays out until you’re old enough to retire (usually 65 to 67).
Having both types of coverage offers the most protection, but can be expensive unless you already get short-term disability insurance through your work.
2. Decide how much coverage to get
You have to decide how much disability insurance you need, your benefit amount, and the elimination, or waiting period. These factors all affect your coverage and the cost of your policy.
Benefit amount, or how much your disability insurance pays out every month. You need at least enough disability insurance so that you don’t fall behind on your expenses while you’re not working.
Benefit period, or how long you can receive disability insurance payments. You can receive benefits for one year after your disability or up to retirement age — though a benefit period that lasts until retirement is the most expensive option.
Elimination period, or how long after your illness or injury you have to wait to get benefits. A longer elimination period means cheaper premiums, but also means relying on your savings or another disability insurance policy while you wait for payments to start.
3. Consider optional policy add-ons
Your insurance company may offer riders, or optional policy features that add to our coverage. Some riders are free, while others will increase your monthly premiums.
4. Compare quotes
You should get quotes from more than one company — they’re free — to make sure you’re getting the best price.
An independent insurance broker, like Policygenius, can help you find the best disability insurance company for your budget and coverage needs.
5. Fill out an application
You’ll have to enter some initial information to get quotes, and then even more when you officially apply for a policy. A disability insurance application requires personal, financial, and health information, like your:
6. Have a phone interview with the insurance company
After you submit your application, the insurance company will schedule a phone interview. During this phone call, your insurance company asks you in-depth questions about your medical history and your occupational duties.
This gives the provider a better understanding of your risk of injury or illness, your lifestyle (like whether you’re a smoker), and any pre-existing conditions you have — all of which can affect the coverage you can get and your rates.
7. Go through the underwriting process
The disability insurance underwriting process tells the insurance company how risky you are to insure. Some insurance companies may offer a faster underwriting process that waives the medical exam, but these policies come with certain restrictions.
There are three main steps in the disability underwriting process:
Medical exam: The insurance company schedules a time to take the exam, which is a lot like a standard physical, and can even send a technician to your home or work for your convenience.
Income verification: You have to send your insurance company pay stubs, tax returns, or other documents to verify your income matches with your disability coverage.
Statement from your doctor: Also called an attending physician’s statement (APS), this is a statement from your doctor about your health history.
8. Sign your policy
The underwriting process for disability insurance can take four to six weeks. Afterward, the insurance company will issue you a policy. You officially start your disability insurance by signing and returning a copy and making your first premium payment.
If your premium is different from what you were quoted, it might be because of the results of the underwriting process. Your insurance company or agent can explain any changes.
How to get on Social Security disability insurance
Disability from Social Security pays a monthly benefit just like a private disability insurance policy. While you don’t have to pay for SSDI, it’s hard to qualify for coverage and the benefits are much smaller (less than $2,000 a month).
Still, it’s worth getting Social Security disability insurance if you qualify. Here’s how to apply to get on Social Security disability insurance:
1. Gather necessary information and documents
You need lots of personal information before you can apply for SSDI. Be sure to have:
Your Social Security Number
Proof of your age, like a birth certificate
Names and contact information for any doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that have taken care of you
Medical records from all of these healthcare workers
Any relevant laboratory tests and results
Names and dosages of any medicine that you are taking
An explanation of your work history, including a job description
Your most recent W-2 form or a copy of your federal tax return
2. Apply for benefits
You can apply for disability insurance through Social Security by filling out an application online, calling over the phone, or at a Social Security office.
If you’re not sure about navigating the online application process, or you don’t feel comfortable sending you personal information through the mail, it might be a good idea to apply in person.
3. Complete the medical release form
Before you can be considered for SSDI, you need to sign the medical release form provided by the Social Security Administration. This form allows the Social Security Administration access to your medical records and other sensitive personal information.
It won’t take long to fill out the form, but forgetting to fill it out can hold up your application.
4. Wait for approval
After you apply for SSDI benefits, the SSA may contact you for additional information. It can take three to five months for the SSA to process your claim.
Many people are denied because the definition of disability for SSDI is much more strict than for private disability insurance. To be eligible, you:
Have to have worked in a job that’s eligible for SSDI benefits.
Can’t have a job when you apply.
Must be unable to do basic activities like sitting, standing, walking, and lifting.
Must have a condition on the SSA’s list of covered disabilities.
5. Appeal the decision if it was denied
If you are denied SSDI benefits, you can appeal the decision and ask the SSA to look at your application again.
The notification that tells you that your application was denied will lay out the appeal process. You may also just have to submit updated information about part of your application, like your doctor’s visits, treatments, and tests.
How to get employer-sponsored group disability insurance
Lots of companies offer disability insurance as an employee perk. It’s easy to get group disability insurance through your work, sometimes it’s as simple as just opting-in
Here’s how to get your group disability insurance through work:
Understand how your company’s group insurance covers you.
Go through a medical exam if necessary.
Sign up during open enrollment periods, like with health and life insurance.
It’s best to pair group coverage with a private disability insurance policy. That’s because:
Your group disability benefits are taxable if your employer covers any of your premiums or if you pay for it with pre-tax dollars.
Your benefits may not fully cover your income and expenses.
You have little control over the types or amounts of coverage you get with a group policy.
You can’t keep your group disability insurance if you leave your job.