Humans are amazingly adaptive. But sometimes it takes a long time to recover from unexpected circumstances. Car crashes. Heart attacks. Random acts of violence. Back injuries. Cancer. These can have long lasting impacts on our ability to perform our jobs and earn money.
Your employer may offer sick time and a few weeks of short-term disability. But what if you still can't work after that? Half of all mortgage foreclosures are the result of long-term injuries or illness.
You can protect yourself from the financial effects of these situations with long-term disability insurance. Most people have car insurance, yet 60% of working adults in this country don't have coverage to protect their most valuable asset - the ability to earn a living.
Are You Covered?
Check with your employer, you may already have long-term disability coverage. Many employees do and don't even know it. If you do, make sure you know how well you're covered. You don't want to wait until you really need the benefits to discover gaps in the coverage.
Does your benefit calculation include Social Security payments? Your policy may assume you will get Social Security disability payments in determining how much to pay out in case of a claim. But Social Security will pay benefits only if your disability will last more than 12 months or lead to death. There is a waiting period of five months before you qualify, and then another month before you receive benefits. So even if you have short-term disability coverage for the first 12 weeks, there will be several months of potential unpaid time.
Social Security disability covers you only if you are unable to perform ANY job, not just your current job. So even if you are used to sitting behind a computer or talking on the phone all day, the government will expect you to take any job you can get. Think of some of the jobs out there you might be expected to take! They may be much more physically demanding or lower paying that what you are accustomed to.
Policies vary considerably from one to another. Make sure you know how well you are covered so that you can prepare around your policy. If your benefits are not great, you should save up more in your emergency fund.
- Benefit Amount Disability insurance pays only 60% of your current income. It's designed to be enough to cover your base expenses without offering incentive for people to abuse the system. If your employer pays your premiums as an employee benefit, the disability payments you receive will be taxable. If you pay your own premiums, your disability payments will be tax-free.
- Term of Benefits Check for how long your benefits will be paid. Some policies will cover you for only two years. Others provide lifelong benefits. Most policies are somewhere in between. You can lower your premiums by reducing the term of your benefits.
- Premium The amount you (or your employer) will pay for your coverage depends on so many variables that it's impossible to list them all here. But some of the main factors are your age, your gender (on average, women live longer - longer benefit payments mean higher premiums), your job (how dangerous is it?), your income (how much will they have to pay out?), your medical history and your lifestyle.
- Non-Cancelable If your policy is non-cancelable, you're in luck. Once you have been approved, they can't cancel your policy or raise your rates unless they stop covering your entire job class.
- Guaranteed Renewable Not quite as good as non-cancelable, they can't cancel your policy (again, unless they stop covering your entire job class), but they can raise your rates.
- Own Occupation This is an important designation on your policy that determines what it means to be disabled. "Own occupation" means that you're disabled when you're unable to perform your current job. "Any occupation" means that you're disabled when you can't perform any job. Obviously "own occupation" is preferable but it's also more expensive.
- Elimination Period The elimination period is how long you'll wait after you are disabled to start receiving benefits. All policies have at least a 30-day waiting period before they start paying you benefits. Otherwise, if you missed one day from work, they would have to pay you for that day. But other policies will wait even longer to start paying - 60, 90 or even 120 days. The longer the elimination period, the lower the premium. To determine how long an elimination period you should get, figure out how long you could go without earning income. If you've saved up three months of expenses, take a 60-day elimination period (Benefits won't start until after you've been disabled for a month. Add a 60-day elimination period and you're at three months.) If you have a claim, file it as soon as possible. That will start the elimination period and start your benefits faster.
- Residual Benefits Some policies will offer lower amounts for less than complete disability. The wording of the policy can sound very morbid - 20% for loss of an eye, 40% for loss of a limb and an eye, etc.