Do You Need Short-Term Disability Insurance?

Young woman with her leg in a cast, making a phone call.

The following is presented for informational purposes only.

A minor eye injury that puts you out of work for a month. A fender bender that leaves with neck and back pain too intense to work through. If you can't work, you often can't earn money, and with no income, how can you cover your bills?

The answer for some may be short-term disability insurance. Should you fall ill, become diagnosed with a medical condition, or get into an accident that prevents you from working for awhile, short-term disability can replace some of your income until you’re back on your feet.

“Short-term disability is important because it can protect your savings and investment accounts in the chance that you are temporarily unable to work due to a disability,” says Ben Smith, founder and financial planner of Cove Financial Planning. “Without coverage, many people are forced to take on debt, draw on their cash reserves, or worse, their retirement savings, in order to pay bills and living expenses in an instance where they are not earning an income due to a disability.”

Nearly every worker could potentially benefit from having short-term disability insurance, but there are some instances where having that extra protection is even more important.

You’re Self-Employed

If you work for yourself or have a small number of employees, you’ll definitely want to consider getting short-term disability insurance.

“Doctors, veterinarians, CPAs, and similar professionals who have their own practices are often self-employed and may not have the coverage, and also may be earning high incomes that lead to expensive month-to-month lifestyle costs,” says Ian Bloom, a CFP® and Financial Life Planner for Nerds. “In some cases, a disability would exhaust their savings rather quickly.”

You’ll also want to consider short-term disability insurance if you’re a full-time freelancer. Freelancers don’t get sick leave or get coverage through an employer. So if they’re unable to work, and their cash flow takes a halt, it could put them in financial peril.

You Don’t Have Enough in Savings

It might be okay to forego short-term disability coverage if you have six months worth of income in savings, as well as a considerable cushion beyond that, points out Bloom. When figuring out whether you have enough in savings to cover your living expenses when you’re disabled, keep in mind that if a disability occurs, you'll likely have medical expenses — doctors’ visits, treatments, medication — in addition to your regular monthly expenses.

On the flip side, let’s say you have a large cash reserve. In that case, you might not need short-term disability. “This means that they may be able to 'self-fund' a potential temporary loss of income during a disability,” says Smith. And if your spouse or partner has a high-income job, and they can cover household expenses for a short time, you may not necessarily need to be covered with short-term disability.

“Every situation is different, so it's important to learn about your unique options and needs,” says Smith.

Your Employer Doesn’t Offer It

If your employer doesn’t offer short-term disability, it might be worth looking into getting it on your own. And even if your employer does offer short-term disability insurance, it might not be enough for your potential financial needs.

To gauge this, review the coverage amounts and terms with your employer. You’ll also want to assess what your current living expenses are, and tack on additional expenses for medical treatment. If the current coverage doesn't match your costs, you may need add additional coverage on your own.

Tips for Shopping for Short-Term Disability

A few pointers if you’re thinking of hopping on a short-term disability plan:

Look for coverage through your employer first

You might be able to get coverage through your employer, which is typically less expensive than buying a private plan, explains Smith. What’s more, it’s usually easier to get coverage through a group plan. When it comes time to re-up on your company benefits, be sure to ask about short-term disability coverage if that's something you're interested in.

See if the state you live in offers short-term disability

Only five states in the U.S. offer their own short-term disability programs: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The coverage amounts and time periods vary. Even if you live in a state that offers it, you might still want to get additional coverage to make sure you have enough to live on should you need it.

Check the elimination period

An elimination period is the amount of time you must wait until your insurance coverage kicks in. For example, a 14-day elimination period means you must wait 14 days after you become disabled before receiving any benefit from the plan. Elimination periods for short-term disability are usually are typically 7 or 14 days, while some might be up to 30 days. “In most cases, the longer the elimination period, the lower the cost of insurance will be,” says Smith.

And even if you hop on a short-term disability plan, you could still need some cash reserves to cover your expenses until the elimination period ends.

If you're dealing with a temporary loss of income and need access to advice and local resources, the NFCC-certified counselors are MMI can help. We're available 24/7 to provide guidance and support.

Tagged in Insurance, Managing medical bills and debt

Jackie Lam - author photo

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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