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How to get disability insurance

Follow these steps to find private, Social Security, or group disability coverage.

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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.

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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, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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Anthony HeAnthony HeDisability Insurance Operations Manager Anthony He is a disability insurance expert and a former Operations Manager at Policygenius. He has 10 years of previous insurance experience and is a licensed agent in the state of New York.

Updated|4 min read

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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.

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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.

Disability insurance riders
  • Automatic increase benefit: Allows you to increase your monthly benefit annually for a limited period.

  • Cost of living increase: Increases your monthly benefits by 3% to 6% to keep up with inflation.

  • Guaranteed renewable: Means that your insurer can’t cancel your policy as long as you keep up with premium payments.

  • Future purchase option: Lets you increase your coverage later on without a medical exam.

  • Own-occupation coverage: Lets you continue receiving benefits as long as you can't work your specific job, even if you have another job.

  • Rehabilitation rider: Helps you pay for occupational or vocational rehab after a disability.

  • Residual or partial disability benefit: Pays a benefit when your disability affects only part of your ability to do your job.

  • Waiver of premium: Waives your premiums if you become disabled and can’t work.

→ Read more about disability insurance riders

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.

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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:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Location

  • Occupation

  • Income

  • Health history

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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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.

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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:

  1. Understand how your company’s group insurance covers you.

  2. Go through a medical exam if necessary.

  3. 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.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the best way to get disability insurance?

The best way to get disability insurance is through a private insurance company. That’s because private disability insurance comes with the most protection and most people can qualify for coverage.

What do you need to apply for disability insurance?

You have to provide your disability insurance company with personal details, including your age, medical history, and proof of your income. You also need to go through a medical exam.

How do you qualify for disability insurance?

Every disability policy explains the requirements to qualify for benefits, but generally you have to meet your policy’s definition of disability. That means that you have to be unable to work or perform certain actions because of an injury or illness.


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.


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, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Expert reviewer

Anthony He is a disability insurance expert and a former Operations Manager at Policygenius. He has 10 years of previous insurance experience and is a licensed agent in the state of New York.

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