What disability riders do you need?

Every long-term disability insurance rider you should consider adding to your policy.

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Elissa SuhSenior Editor & Disability Insurance ExpertElissa 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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A disability policy protects your income while you're unable to work. When you buy long-term disability insurance, you can customize your policy with riders to expand your disability coverage. But not all disability riders are right for all people, and since some riders can 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.

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Key takeaways

  • A disability rider allows you to get additional coverage for your insurance policy. 

  • Some riders are included by insurers at no extra cost, and you can also add more when you're getting an individual disability insurance policy.

  • If you have a group disability plan, your choice of riders may be more limited.

Free long-term disability insurance riders

Some long-term disability insurance riders are great additions because they're free. These riders usually either come built into your policy or can be added at no extra cost, but there are exceptions, so make sure to read through the details. If you’re shopping for insurance, you can speak to one of the licensed agents at Policygenius to help you compare disability policies and what they offer.

Guaranteed renewable

This feature guarantees the insurance company can never cancel your policy as long as you continue to pay the premiums. It’s a standard feature, not just for disability insurance but other types of insurance as well. 


Many disability policies have a feature that ensures the premium price will stay the same throughout the years you’re covered. This prevents the insurance company from changing the price you pay or cancelling your policy while it’s active.

Presumptive total disability

If you lose your hearing, speech, sight in both eyes, or the use of at least two limbs, you can receive disability benefits immediately, whether or not you’re working, when you have a presumptive total disability rider. With a traditional policy you must wait for the elimination period to end before you can start receiving benefits.

→ Learn more about presumptive disability insurance  

Waiver of premium rider

Included in most policies, this rider waives your disability premiums after you’ve successfully filed a claim. That means when you become disabled and receive benefits from your insurer, you won’t have to pay the premiums until the benefits run out and you're able to work again.

→ Learn how much disability insurance costs

Automatic increase benefit rider

You can increase your monthly benefit for the first four to five years you own the policy with no additional underwriting if you have an automatic increase benefit rider. This can be helpful if you get a raise — since you’d need a larger benefit payment to replace your income if you become disabled. Keep in mind that when your benefit amount increases because of this rider, the premiums will also increase with it. 

Depending on your insurance company, this feature may be already built into your policy. 

Rehabilitation waiver

After becoming disabled, you can get help paying for occupational or vocational training to help you return to work when you add a rehabilitation rider to your policy. This can be especially valuable if you have an own-occupation policy, since you can collect the benefit while still working another job. Not every insurance company offers a rehabilitation waiver, but the insurers that do usually add it to your policy for free. 

Survivor benefit or death benefit

This disability rider pays money to your beneficiary if you die while you're receiving disability benefits. The survivor benefit amount may be worth a few months of your benefit payment. 

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Other long-term disability insurance riders to consider

It's hard to say that any one rider is right for everyone, but there are riders that might be useful for your situation, whether because they offer the most coverage or provide the greatest protection for your income.

Catastrophic disability benefit

You may be able to receive an additional benefit if you have a catastrophic disability, which is typically defined as being unable to perform two activities of daily living, like bathing, eating, getting dressed, or using the bathroom. This rider can be expensive, so it may be unnecessary unless you are exceptionally risk-averse.

Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

If you add this rider to your disability policy, it will increase the monthly benefit amount to make up for annual inflation. Depending on your policy, the adjusted increases may be up to 3% or 6%, usually based on the Consumer Price Index, which measures the price of goods and services over time. Keep in mind that the benefit amount only increases after you’ve started receiving benefits (usually on the anniversary of your disability date).

COLA riders are commonly offered add-ons, but they can be expensive. Most people will be better off keeping pace with their earnings with a future purchase rider and automatic increase of benefit rider instead.

Future increase option

Also known as a future insurability rider, future purchase rider, and future benefits rider, this policy add-on lets you increase your disability benefits in the future without the hassle of the medical underwriting process

Anyone who expects their income to increase should consider this rider, which essentially "locks in" your insurability. This enables you to buy more coverage when your income goes up, even if your medical health worsens.


Some long-term policies will already include “own-occupation” in the terms of their coverage, but with some companies you’ll have to add a rider.   

Own-occupation adjusts the definition of disability so that it’s specific to your occupation. That means you can make a disability claim if you’re unable to do your job, and even when you can perform a different job, you would still get the benefit. When you get disability insurance, you should aim for at least a "modified own-occupation" policy, so that when it comes time to file a claim, it may be easier to qualify for benefits. 

→ Learn more about own-occupation disability insurance

Partial or residual disability benefit rider

Having a partial disability rider allows you to receive benefits if you can perform some, but not all of the duties in your current role if you become disabled.  Insurance companies may offer some form of partial or residual disability coverage built into your policy, which you can further expand with a rider. Adding the rider to your policy can help when you experience a loss of income due 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 this benefit.

→ Learn more about residual disability benefits

Retirement protection rider

While most people buy policies to cover living expenses, one overlooked disability risk is lost savings. A retirement protection rider covers payments you would have made to a retirement account, like a 401(k) or IRA, by paying the funds into an irrevocable trust while you're disabled. This rider may be useful if you’re a high-income earner with the budget to protect your retirement.

→ Learn more about retirement protection disability insurance 

Return of premium rider

This rider returns a certain percentage of your paid premiums when you cancel a policy. That means you'll receive some money back if you never end up receiving disability benefits from the insurer. 

A return of premium rider may sound good in theory, but the cost of adding it can be expensive, so you're generally better off saving or investing the money you’d spend on it. You can typically receive a higher percentage of your total disability premiums if you’re willing to pay more for the rider. Insurers offer anywhere from a 50% refund, an 80% refund, or even a 100% refund for premiums paid up to the year during which you become eligible for the refund.

Additionally, you’ll only receive the premium refunds at certain milestones, which could be as long as seven or ten years after you get the policy. 

Social insurance benefit rider 

With 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. Sometimes a social insurance rider is built into the policy.

When taken on voluntarily, social insurance riders, also known as supplemental income disability riders, or social insurance substitute rider can potentially lower your premiums. That’s because this rider lowers the insurance company’s risk and the benefit payments they have to pay you, by taking into account other social benefits you might receive when you’re disabled. These include Social Security disability insurance benefits, Worker’s Compensation, and Railroad Retirement benefits.

→ Learn about social benefit offset riders 

Student loan protection rider

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase additional coverage to help make student loan payments when you’re disabled. This rider can be 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. Keep in mind that you can qualify for a student loan discharge when you’re totally and permanently disabled

Unemployment premium suspension

This feature allows you to stop paying premiums when you’re unemployed. You’ll still own the policy, but your coverage will be suspended during that time, so if you become disabled you won't be able to file a claim and receive benefits. This can be risky if you suffer an illness or injury and become disabled, so it's recommended that policyholders continue to pay premiums even if they’re temporarily unemployed, so they’ll have income protection if something happens.

Disability rider FAQ

What is a rider for disability insurance?

A disability rider is a policy add-on that allows you to expand your coverage, usually by paying an added cost.

Are riders included in my policy?

Sometimes riders are already built into your long-term disability coverage. Insurance companies commonly include a waiver of premium rider and presumptive total disability rider at no extra cost, but make sure to ask your insurance company for more details.

What is a supplemental disability income rider?

A supplemental income rider reduces your benefit payments from an insurance company, dollar for dollar, by the benefit amount you receive from Social Security Disability insurance or other government programs.