If you become disabled, disability income insurance provides money to help you pay ongoing bills and avoid depleting the savings you may have accumulated for your children’s education or your retirement.  As with other major financial purchases, it is important to review all options available to you and to learn how disability income insurance works.

Financial Protection for You and Your Family

Before purchasing an individual disability income insurance policy, evaluate your income needs as well as the benefits you may be eligible for from your employer, the government, or other programs.  If you decide that you and your family will benefit from additional financial protection, a long-term disability income policy may be the right financial protection tool for you.

The guide, prepared by the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), outlines features and costs of insurance and offer tips and a checklist on buying a policy.

Consider all the sources of income you might be able to depend on should disability strike

You may already be covered under a group disability income insurance policy through your employer or eligible for disability benefits through work, the government, or other programs.  Also, consider additional sources of income you might be able to depend on should disability strike; a spouse’s salary, short-term emergency savings, investments, or help from your family.

If the total of these is not enough to pay your living expenses on a long-term basis, or a disability would eat into our retirement savings or children’s college fund, a long-term disability income insurance policy may serve your needs.  Such coverage may be purchased as an individual policy or available under a plan offered through your employer.


For short-term illness or injury, your employer may offer sick leave or short-term disability insurance (or both).  Employee sick leave and short-term disability coverage can range from a few days to six months or more, depending on the extent of benefits and the length of your employment.

Group long-term disability coverage – offered by some employers – replaces part of your salary if you are unable to work for an extended period of time.  A typical group policy pays at least half your salary up to a specified limit, such as $5,000 per month. Such coverage would begin when the short-term disability benefits from your employer stop.

Benefits from group policies generally continue until either age 65 or your retirement age under Social Security or until you are able to return to work.  In some policies, benefits may also be available for a specified period after your return to work.

Group coverage lasts only as long as you are employed or remain a member of the group.


Social Security provides long-term disability benefits based on your salary and the number of years you have worked and contributed to the Social Security system.  However, Social Security replaces only a limited portion of your salary, and the qualifications to receive benefits are very strict.  To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, all of these conditions must be met:

  • You have been disabled for five full calendar months.
  • Your disability must be expected to last at least 12 months or end in death.
  • You must be unemployable at any occupation, not just your own occupation at the time of your disability.


Other programs besides Social Security are sometimes available to those who have become disabled.  You may qualify for:

  • Workers’ compensation for work-related injuries or illnesses (required in all states)
  • Special disability programs for veterans injured in war, miners who develop black lung disease, railroad employees, or federal and state government workers.
  • State vocational rehabilitation programs,
  • Automobile insurance benefits for disability from an auto accident
  • Temporary disability programs are available in California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.