What disability riders do you need?

Every long-term disability insurance rider you should consider.

Logan Sachon


Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor

Logan Sachon is an Insurance Expert and Senior Managing Editor at Policygenius. She joined the company in 2018 as an Insurance Editor and has written extensively about insurance and personal finance for the Policygenius website and for the Easy Money by Policygenius weekly newsletter. 

Published July 15, 2019|9 min read

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At its most basic, a disability insurance policy protects your income while you’re unable to work. But when you’re shopping for long-term disability insurance, you’ll find that you can customize your policy through riders. By adding a disability rider, you can specify when you receive your disability benefit, the definitions of coverage for your policy, and more. But not all riders are right for all people. And since some riders can slightly raise your policy premiums, it’s important to know what your options are, which ones you need and which ones could be an unnecessary cost.

Some long-term disability insurance riders work better for most people, but everyone’s situation is different. Before you consider any additions to your policy, you should talk to a licensed expert who can help figure out what type of policy you need, and what disability riders can help you best. (Policygenius has licensed experts that can help you through every step of your disability insurance application including riders.)

Read on to learn about:

Default and no-cost long-term disability insurance riders

There are some long-term disability insurance riders that are great additions for most people because they’re free. These riders usually either come standard on a policy or can be added at no extra cost.

Guaranteed renewable

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Guarantees the insurance company can never cancel your policy as long as you continue to pay the premiums. (If you have life insurance, this rider may be familiar.)

Waiver of premium

Offered by: Most carriers What does it do? Waives the premiums on your policy while you’re on claim, until you’re able to work again and resume payments.

Automatic increase benefit

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Increases your monthly benefit for the first four to five years you own the policy, with no additional underwriting, to cover normal pay increases without any underwriting needed to justify the increase. This is an optional increase that can be declined annually; if you choose to increase your benefit, your premium also increases.

Presumptive total disability

Offered by: Most carriers What does it do? Pays out the full benefit immediately if you lose sight in both eyes, hearing, speech, or the use of at least two limbs, regardless of the elimination period (how long you must be disabled before you receive the benefit) or whether or not you’re working.

Family care benefit

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Pays out the full benefit of your policy if you take time off of work to care for a loved one.

Survivor benefit or death benefit

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Pays compensation to your beneficiary if you die while on a disability claim. (This feature isn’t a replacement for life insurance, but is a nice feature.)

Good health benefit

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Reduces the elimination period by two days each consecutive year you go without a claim.

Occupational rehabilitation

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Helps pay for vocational training after a disability to help you return to work. This can be especially valuable if you have an own-occupation policy, since you can collect the benefit while still working another job.

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Disability insurance is meant to replace your income when you become disabled.

It’s hard to say any one rider is right for everyone, but there are riders that are useful for the majority of people, whether because they offer the most coverage or provide the greatest price protection. Everyone should consider these riders, because they’ll likely be helpful.

Own occupation

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Changes the qualification of a claim so it’s specific to your occupation (if you can do another job, you would still get the benefit). There are several different definitions of “disabled” when it comes to own-occupation policies but it’s one of the most important aspects to a policy. Everyone should aim for at least a “modified own-occupation” policy, because when it comes time for a claim you want the definition of disability to be as strong as possible.


Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Guarantees the premium and prevents the insurance company from changing the price you pay. Most people should consider this rider, but the re-pricing of policies is rare in the modern disability insurance industry. If you are later in your career, this might be an unnecessary expense, but it’s worth looking into if it’s in your budget. (Again, this rider is also available with many life insurance policies.)

Partial or residual disability benefit

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Pays a benefit if you are still working in your own occupation, but experience a loss of income due to to a decrease in hours or productivity. Everyone should have at least a basic partial disability feature on their policy, and people with a direct correlation between hours worked and earnings (like business owners and attorneys) should consider a more robust partial benefit.

Future purchase option

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Lets you increase your coverage in the future with no evidence of medical insurability (i.e., you won’t have to go through the underwriting process again). Anyone who expects their income to increase should consider this rider, which essentially "locks in" your insurability. This means no matter what happens to you medically, you can buy more coverage if your income goes up. For workers later in their career, this could be an unnecessary rider and could be dropped if you never plan on increasing the monthly benefit.

Student loan

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Allows you to purchase additional coverage to pay student loan balances while on claim. Useful for anyone who invested heavily in their education and has student loans, and for people who start their career with high incomes, like doctors and lawyers.

Retirement protection

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Covers payments you would have made to a retirement account, like a 401(k) or individual retirement account. While most people buy policies to cover living expenses, one overlooked disability risk is lost savings. This rider pays funds into an irrevocable trust while you’re on a claim. This money pays out during retirement. Having some coverage in the event you can't work is the most important thing, but if you have capacity in your budget to protect your retirement, this is a great rider to consider.

While there are a lot of disability riders that are great for most people, there are some that will serve a more limited crowd. They may be more costly than your typical rider, or they have a more specific use that doesn’t fit most people’s needs. While you shouldn’t completely discount these riders if they don’t work for your individual scenario, they shouldn’t take precedence over the more useful, popular riders mentioned above.

Social Security offset

Offered by: Most carriers, and some carriers require it What does it do? If you sign up for this rider, you agree to apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) in the event of a disability and, if you qualify, your insurer will subtract your SSDI benefit from the amount they pay you. You’ll still get the full benefit amount, but some of it will come from SSDI rather than your insurer, so you can lower the cost of your policy. However, without the rider, you could collect your policy’s full benefit and your SSDI benefit.

Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

Offered by: All carriers What does it do? Increases the monthly benefit paid to you while you’re claiming disability insurance benefits, pegged to the Consumer Price Index or other cost measurement. This can be an expensive rider, and the benefit only begins to increase while you’re on a claim. Most people will be better off keeping pace with their earnings with future purchase and automatic increase of benefit riders, but if you’re young and are on a claim for a long period of time, a COLA rider might be worth it.

Catastrophic disability benefit

Offered by: Most carriers What does it do? Pays an additional benefit amount if you have a catastrophic disability, typically defined as one where you are unable to perform two activities of daily living, like bathing and eating. Unless you are exceptionally risk averse, this is most likely an unnecessary addition to your policy and can be expensive.

Unemployment premium suspension

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Suspends premiums while you’re unemployed, allowing you to stop paying premiums but continue owning the policy. However, coverage is also suspended while you’re unemployed, so if you become disabled during that time, you won’t receive a benefit. This makes it risky, so it’s recommended that policyholders continue to pay premiums while going through temporary unemployment, so they have protection if they have an injury or illness during that time.

Return of premium

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Returns a certain percentage of your paid premiums when you cancel a policy. That means you’ll receive something back if you never use the policy benefit, but a return of premium rider is usually pretty expensive. You’re generally better off saving or investing the additional rider cost. (Return-of-premium life insurance policies are also available, and are likewise more expensive and not worth it for most people.)

At the end of the day, no one will need all of these riders, but it’s clear there are a lot of ways you can customize your disability insurance policy. It’s important to speak with a disability insurance agent or personal finance expert to make sure you have the protection you need. We can get you started with free and easy disability insurance quotes.

Disability income riders on life insurance policies

For people buying life insurance, there are some life insurance riders that can help your life insurance policy serve as disability insurance or otherwise pay out benefits while you are still alive, in some situations. The disability coverage offered by life insurance riders isn’t as robust as a standalone disability insurance policy and can be more expensive; if you’re interested in disability insurance coverage, a standalone disability policy offers the best and most affordable protection.

Disability income rider

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? When added to a life insurance policy, provides you with a monthly stipend if you become disabled and unable to work.

Critical illness rider

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? When added to a life insurance policy, covers treatment for certain illness specified by the policy and pays out lump-sum amounts subtracted from the death benefit.

Accelerated death benefit (ADB) rider

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? If you have a terminal illness, the accelerated death benefit (ADB) rider will allow the insurance company to begin paying out your death benefit while you are still alive. Also called a living benefit, the money is paid as needed and can be used for anything.

Waiver of premium for disability rider

Offered by: Select carriers What does it do? Allows you to stop paying premiums — while keeping your policy in force — if you incur a serious disability and cannot work.