Disability Insurance (Part 2): The 9 Things You Need to Know Before Buying Disability Insurance

Most people don’t have sufficient disability coverage. 

Disability insurance is a contract between you and the insurance company that will replace your wages when you become sick or injured and cannot work for a long time.

According to the Social Security Administration, nearly 1 in 4 of today’s twenty year-olds will become disabled before age 67.  Most people think that Social Security will provide the benefits that they need, but often that is not the case:

  1. Social Security does not provide a person’s full wages as benefits.
  2. Social Security has a very strict definition of what “disability” is and is not.
  3. Social Security has a 5-month waiting period before you can receive any of the benefits.  Even in the face of medical costs that are associated with disability income, it means forgoing income for 5 months.

Social Security should only be used as a supplement to your own long-term disability policy.

Many employers offer disability coverage as an additional fringe benefit, but as we mentioned in Part 1 of our posts on the topic, employer coverage only covers you while you’re working there and become disabled while you’re working there.  Additionally, most group plans do not typically cover more than 60% of your salary.  It is not portable.  If you lose your job, your next employer may or may not have a long-term disability plan.  Unlike health insurance where you can get coverage under COBRA for a period of time, once you leave your employer’s plan, you no longer have any coverage as a safety net.

To the extent you have employer coverage, if you are applying for personal, the insurance company will take that into account and decrease your benefit accordingly.

Q: How much disability should you obtain?

A: At least 80% of your before tax earnings. 

When choosing a long-term disability insurance plan, these are some aspects of the fine print about which to ask:

  1. Check the definition of ‘disability’ (there are 3 potential options)
    1. Own occupation: this is the best definition of disability because it is the most broad. Under this definition, an insured person is considered entirely disabled if he is unable to do any or every duty of his occupation.  For example, if you can get a job in a different industry, you can still collect benefits under this policy.
    2. Any occupation: this is the strictest definition of disability. Under this definition, an insured person is considered disabled only when he is unable to do every duty for which he is trained.
    3. Split definition: frequently used by insurance companies, this is some sort of combination of the two previous definitions.
  2. Make sure that your contract is NonCancelable and Guaranteed Renewable. This guarantees that after you place a policy in-force that there will be no changes to your premium schedule, your monthly benefits, or your policy benefit. No one can guarantee that their incomes will never go down, under a Non-Cancelable policy even if your income goes down later in life, if you become totally disabled the insurance company will pay you the total disability benefit you originally placed in-force. Under a Non-Cancelable policy for example, if you changed jobs from being professional worker (a low-risk occupation) to a professional weight lifter the company could not change your benefits for the worse.
  3. Ensure that your monthly benefit coverage replaces between 50-80% of your pre-disability income.
  4. Make sure you get a cost of living rider, which is an inflation hedge for your benefits.
  5. Ask for a FIO (future increase option), which allows you to increase your insurance benefits as income rises, regardless of health. Without this rider, there is no way to protect your future earnings. A disability insurance policy by itself only protects the amount of income that you make at the time when you take out the policy. It does not grow automatically unless you have this.
  6. Check that the policy eliminates any requirement for you to pay any premium payments while you’re disabled.
  7. Ask about a residual benefits clause, which is a partial payout due to partial disability.  For example, receiving partial benefits if you’re only able to work part-time.
  8.  Evaluate and choosing the waiting period or elimination period as its sometimes known as.  The elimination period is the period of time between the onset of a disability, and the time you are eligible for benefits. It is best thought of as a deductible period for your policy. The most common waiting period is 90 days, but it can be less or more time. Examples include 30, 60, 90, or 180 days to 1 year to 2 year waiting period.
  9. Length of time or Benefit period. Think of the benefit period as the period of time you are eligible to collect benefits while on a disability insurance claim. The shortest period of time is coverage for 2 years up to life time benefits.

The underwriting for disability insurance is significantly different than the underwriting for life insurance.  As you get older, there is a higher probability of getting disabled and many people begin to develop ailments.  Therefore, over time it becomes more challenging and difficult to obtain reasonably priced long-term disability coverage.

It will depend on your overall health and what your doctors have put in your files.

Note that many insurance companies exclude coverage for Mental & nervous disorders, alcohol & drug claims, acts of war, and payments of claims caused during a crime.

Lastly, there are tax consequences for long-term disability insurance.

  1. If you pay the premium as an individual with after-tax dollars:  if/when you were collect insurance benefits, the benefits are tax-free.
  2. Benefits under an employer group plan are taxable if the employer paid the premium and the premiums were not taxable income to the employee.

If you’d like to set up an appointment to discuss your financial plan, we look forward to hearing from you.

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