3 min read

March 31, 2021

What’s disability insurance and do I need it? 5 things to know

Statistically, illness is why the vast majority of workers lose the regular income that keeps them afloat—things like cancer, bipolar disorder, and arthritis. Are you protected?

Photo of a young woman who understood why she needed disability insurance and is now using the benefits.

If you got sick or injured and couldn’t work for a while, imagine that you at least felt safe and secure at home.

Unfortunately, many Americans may not be able to pay their everyday expenses in this scenario. They might not be able to afford rent or a mortgage.

That’s where individual disability insurance comes into play. “We generally think to protect our families and our assets through health, life, auto, and homeowners insurance, but we rarely think to protect our income stream,” says Stanley Poorman, a financial professional with Principal®. “It’s important to review your disability insurance coverage to make sure you have enough in place to cover your needs should you not be able to work and generate income.”

Here are five questions that reveal how it could help when you need it most:

1. Why do I need individual disability insurance?

Because you’re human. Thinking about it after you’re sick or injured is too late. Maybe you’re thinking about the statistics of traffic accidents or whether you’re likely to break a bone while crushing the slopes on your snowboard. But the most common reason people can’t work is illness, not injury. Cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other issues are behind 96.5% of missed work.1

Graphic which states that 96.5% of missed work is due to illness, not injury.

2. What does disability insurance cover?

Your lifestyle. Think of all the monthly expenses you take for granted because they’re routinely supported by your income: health-care costs, daycare, or your mortgage. Disability insurance helps maintain your household and afford the time and mental space to heal as you handle a medical challenge.

3. How much disability insurance do I need?

If you have group long-term disability (LTD) insurance through work, that’s a great start. But it may not be enough to cover your monthly necessities, much less your other expenses. Ask your HR rep about this. Most LTD will cover about 60% of your income; that equals significantly less take-home pay after taxes—down to about 40–50% of your income. Supplemental disability insurance could help replace more of your monthly income to keep you solvent and stable.

Graphic which states that if you make an annual salary of $75,000 long-term disability only covers $30,000 - $37,500 after taxes.

“A quick way to determine if you have enough is to review your monthly budget—thinking about what is necessary and what could be substituted or removed as an expense. From there, you should have a good idea of how much of your income needs to be replaced,” Poorman says.

Use our disability insurance calculator to find out how much you might need to protect your lifestyle.

4. How much does disability insurance cost?

Not much—typically 1–3% of what you earn. Poorman suggests looking to your monthly budget to determine how much you’re comfortable spending. Then get an estimate. It’s easy: You’ll answer questions that help describe your health habits, job/income status, other insurance coverage, and medical history. “If necessary, consider any tradeoffs you’re willing to make in your budget to cover any gaps,” Poorman says.

Graphic which states that on a $75,000 annual salary, disability insurance costs about $14 - $43 per week.

5. When is the best time to get disability insurance?

Now. If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that nobody can predict the future. You can’t foresee when or if a disability will prevent you from working. But here’s a staggering statistic: More than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will face disability before they reach traditional retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration.2

“There's no time like the present,” Poorman says. “As you get older or time goes by, rates will increase and/or you may no longer qualify. So start the conversation as soon as possible.”

Graphic which states that 1 in 4 20-year-olds will face disability before retirement.

What to do next?

1 Calculated with data from the “Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2019.” U.S. Social Security Administration, Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, October 2020.

2 Social Security Administration Fact Sheet, March 2021.

Disability insurance has limitations and exclusions. For costs and coverage details, contact your Principal® representative. This content is not intended for use with customers in Arizona. OR policy #HH750OR.

Disability insurance from Principal® is issued by Principal Life Insurance Company, Des Moines, IA 50392.