In a recent survey, 46% of retirees said they retired earlier than planned, and not necessarily because they chose to do so. In fact, many said they had to leave the workforce early because of health issues or a disability.1
Although you may be healthy and financially stable now, an unexpected diagnosis or injury could significantly derail your life plans. Would you know what to do, financially speaking, if you suddenly became disabled? Now may be a good time to familiarize yourself with the following information, before an emergency arises.
Understand any employer-sponsored benefits you may have
Disability insurance pays a benefit that replaces a percentage of your pay for a designated period of time. Through your employer, you may have access to both short- and long-term disability insurance. If your employer offers disability insurance, be sure to fully understand how the plan works. Review your plan's Summary Plan Description carefully to determine how to apply for benefits should you need them, and what you will need to provide for proof of disability.
Short-term disability protection typically covers a period of up to six months, while long-term disability coverage generally lasts for the length of the disability or until retirement. Your plan may offer basic coverage paid by your employer and a possible "buy-up" option that allows you to purchase additional coverage.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of private industry workers have access to short-term disability insurance through their employers, while 33% have access to long-term coverage. For both types of plans, the median replacement amount is about 60% of pay, with most subject to maximum limits.2
Consider a supplemental safety net
If you do not have access to disability insurance through your employer, it might be wise to investigate other options. It may be possible to purchase both short- and long-term group disability policies through membership in a professional organization or association. Individual policies are also available from private insurers.
You can purchase policies that cover you for life, until age 65, or for shorter periods such as two or five years. An individual policy will remain in force as long as you pay the premiums. Because many disabilities do not result in a complete inability to work, some policies offer a rider that will pay you partial benefits if you are able to work part-time.
Most insurance policies have a waiting period (known as the "elimination period") before you can begin receiving benefits. For private insurance policies, this period can be anywhere from 30 to 365 days. Group policies (particularly through your employer) typically have shorter waiting periods than private policies. Disability insurance premiums paid with after-tax dollars will generally result in tax-free disability benefits. On the other hand, if your premiums are paid with pre-tax dollars, typically through your employer, your benefit payments may be taxable.
Review the Social Security disability process
The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSDI pays benefits to people who cannot work due to a disability that is expected to last at least one year or result in death, and it's only intended to help such individuals make ends meet. Consider that the average monthly benefit in January 2017 was just $1,171.
In order to receive SSDI, you must meet strict criteria for your disability. You must also meet requirements for how recently and how long you have worked. Meeting the medical criteria is difficult; in fact, according to the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR), about two-thirds of initial SSDI applications are denied on their first submission. Denials can be appealed within 60 days of receipt of the notice.3
The application process can take up to five months, so it is advisable to apply for SSDI as soon as you become disabled. If your application is approved, benefits begin in the month following the six-month anniversary of your date of disability (as recorded by the SSA in your approval letter). Eligible family members may also be able to collect additional payments of up to 50% of your benefit amount.
SSI is a separate program, based on income needs of the aged, blind, or disabled. You can apply to both SSI and SSDI at the same time.
For more information, visit the Social Security Disability Benefits website at ssa.gov, where you will also find a link to information on the SSI program.