Disability Insurance Basics

If you get sick or hurt and can't work for an extended period of time, disability insurance may be the difference between your family maintaining its lifestyle and making serious changes.

Disability insurance replaces a portion of your regular income when accident or illness keeps you from working. It's usually offered as short-term coverage - which lasts up to 6 months, and long-term coverage - which covers situations lasting six months or more. Often it will be included in benefit packages employers offer, so check at work to see if it's available to you and at what level. Typical policies provide about 60% of your gross (before tax) salary, but you can usually purchase additional coverage for a small increase in cost.

Disability Insurance Basics Takeaway Information:

  • What you should know
  • Take action

What you should know about disability insurance:

  • The definition of disability varies. Make sure any policy you consider covers situations you view as likely, or possible.
  • Look for non-canceling policies. You want a policy that cannot be cancelled and guarantees renewals as long as your premiums are up to date - no matter how your health is.
  • Some benefits are taxed. Not all. If you pay for disability coverage with a before-tax payroll deduction, the benefits will be taxed. Pay for it after taxes (usually an individual policy) and they won't.
  • You may want increasing premiums. If the coverage is too expensive, you might consider a policy that charges less while you're young and more as you age. As earning power generally increases, you should be able to afford the increased expense later on.
  • Social Security disability is hard to qualify for. If you intend to rely on Social Security Disability coverage, know that you may have to prove yourself unable to perform any job, not just yours. Even types of work not available in your area.

Take Action

  • Fill out the checklist on what things to consider when deciding on a disability policy from the Consumer Federation of America.
  • For a simple assessment of your need for disability insurance, go to the Life and Health Foundation for Education.
  • Read entries or join in discussions at the Disability Insurance Forums message board.
  • The Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA), a nonprofit association of insurance companies, has published a "Guide To Disability Income Insurance."
  • Look for an insurer in your state for any type of insurance, using an online service from the Insurance Information Institute.
  • Be sure that the insurance company offering the policy will be financially sound when, or if, it comes time to pay your claim. Use these services:
  • A.M. Best
  • Moody's Investors Services
  • Standard & Poor's Insurance Ratings Service