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Your guide to disability insurance riders

You can add many different disability insurance riders to a basic policy to make your coverage work better for you.

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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.

Updated|6 min read

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You can improve your disability insurance coverage with extra features called “riders.” Some riders come standard as a part of a disability insurance policy, but others can be added for an additional fee.

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Knowing which riders you need — and whether you need any riders at all — can help you  find the most affordable disability insurance policy that works for you.

What is a disability insurance rider?

A rider is a type of disability insurance coverage that you can add to a basic disability policy. You can add riders to long-term and short-term disability insurance policies, though long-term riders are much more common.

Most of the time, disability insurance riders affect the benefits you would receive if you couldn’t work.

No two disability insurance companies offer the exact same riders. If you’re looking for a certain type of coverage, a disability insurance company’s riders can affect whether that company is right for you.

Other ways to customize your disability insurance

Riders aren’t the only way you can change your disability insurance. When you shop for coverage, you can choose your policy’s:

  • Benefit period: The amount of time during which you receive benefits after becoming disabled. Companies offer benefit periods between one year and up to your retirement age.

  • Waiting period: The time between filing a disability claim and when your benefits start. Most waiting periods are 90 days, but you may be able to choose a waiting period of up to two years in exchange for cheaper premiums.

Are disability insurance riders free?

Certain riders (like survivors benefits and rehabilitation benefits) are more likely than others to be free, but it depends on the rider and where you get your disability insurance.

Disability insurance riders that aren’t free can get expensive. While each insurance company has different costs, riders can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the cost of your disability insurance.

If you’re not sure what your disability policy covers (and what it doesn’t), one of our licensed agents at Policygenius can help you compare disability policies and walk you through what each company offers.

Examples of disability insurance riders

Even though disability insurance companies offer different riders, it’s easier to find some riders than others. Here are some of the most common disability insurance riders:

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Automatic increase rider

The automatic increase rider raises your monthly benefit for a few years without requiring you to go through the underwriting process again. Your benefits will usually increase for the first four or five years you own your policy, but it depends.

This is one of the most common riders disability insurance companies offer. Some companies even include the automatic increase rider for free.

Catastrophic disability benefit

This rider pays additional benefits on top of your regular benefits if you lose cognitive function or the ability to perform two or more activities related to daily living, like bathing, eating, or getting dressed.

Cost-of-living adjustment

Also called the COLA rider, this add-on increases your monthly benefit to make up for inflation. Disability insurance companies may offer 3% or 6% cost of living adjustment options.

COLA riders are common, but they can be expensive. As an alternative, you could go with a future increase option or automatic increase rider instead.

Future increase option

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

If you think your income will go up in the future, this rider is worth considering, since you can usually increase your benefits with this rider until middle age.

Guaranteed renewable and non-cancelable

This rider guarantees that your insurance company can’t cancel your policy or raise your rates as long as you continue to pay your premiums on time. This is usually a standard feature of disability insurance policies.

Lifetime extended benefit

The lifetime extended benefit allows you to keep collecting disability insurance benefits for total disabilities beyond your policy’s expiration date. Your benefits depend on when you’re totally disabled, and may change as you get older.

Own-occupation rider

The own-occupation rider changes your policy’s definition of what a disability is and when you receive benefits. With own-occupation disability insurance, you receive benefits as long as you can’t do the specific job you were trained for, even if you get a different job.

Partial or residual disability benefit rider

A partial or residual disability rider lets you collect benefits if you can still perform some, but not all, of your job because of a disability.

Insurance companies sometimes include partial or residual disability coverage as a standard part of your policy. It’s a good idea for everyone who has disability insurance to get basic partial disability, especially people whose income depends on hours worked.

Presumptive total disability

A presumptive disability rider allows you to receive your disability insurance benefits right after losing your hearing, speech, sight in both eyes, or the use of at least two limbs, even if you’re still able to work.

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Rehabilitation waiver

This rider helps you pay for the cost of occupational or vocational rehab after a disability. A rehabilitation waiver can be 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 include it in your policy for free.

Retirement protection rider

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 a trust while you can’t work. This rider is useful if you’re a high-income earner with the budget to protect your retirement.

Return of premium rider

This rider returns a part of your paid premiums when you cancel a policy, allowing you to receive some money back if you never end up using your disability benefits.

A return of premium rider may sound good in theory, but you’re better off saving or investing the money it costs. Insurance companies usually offer only a partial refund, and you’d only be able to receive the refund after a certain number of years.

Social insurance benefit rider 

With this rider, you agree to apply for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) in the event of a disability. If you qualify, your insurer will subtract your SSDI benefit from the amount it pays you and lower your premiums. Sometimes a social insurance rider is built into the policy. 

→ Learn about social benefit offset riders 

Student loan protection rider

This rider helps you continue to make student loan payments after you  file for disability insurance. A student loan protection rider can be useful for anyone who spent a lot of money on their educations, like doctors.

When you’re deciding whether to get this rider, keep in mind that if you’re totally and permanently disabled, you can qualify for a student loan discharge.

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 can be worth a few months of your benefit payment.

Unemployment premium suspension

When you’re unemployed and you have a policy with this rider, you can stop paying premiums. You’ll still own the policy, but your coverage will be suspended during that time. If you become disabled you won't be able to file a claim and receive benefits. 

This can be risky, so it’s a good idea to continue to pay premiums even while you’re temporarily unemployed.

Waiver of premium rider

Most disability insurance companies include a waiver-of-premium rider. This rider  waives your premiums after you file a claim, so there’s no need to pay your premiums until you’re able to work again.

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Frequently asked questions

Are there short-term disability insurance riders?

Yes, but there aren’t as many short-term riders as there are long-term disability insurance riders. The most common short-term disability insurance riders deal with post-pregnancy disabilities.

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.

What is a disability rider with life insurance?

Some life insurance companies offer a disability insurance rider that protects part of your income. This isn’t the same thing as a full disability insurance policy, nor is it the same as a disability insurance rider.


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.

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