Also known as the “waiting period,” the elimination period is the length of time before you start receiving benefits. It’s up to you to decide how long you want this period to last.
What is the elimination period?
The elimination period is the amount of time you’ll need to wait before your disability benefits start paying out. During this time, you’ll have to cover your own living and medical expenses.
Think of it like a car insurance deductible. But instead of having to pay a certain amount of money before your insurer steps in, it’s measured by time.
Once the elimination period has passed, you’ll receive your first monthly check from your insurer — assuming you meet their definition of partial or total disability.
How does the elimination period work?
When you apply for a disability policy, you’ll be given a choice of elimination periods. The most common elimination period is 90 days — which means your benefits won’t be paid out for three months — but the options available to you will depend on your insurer and policy.
Short-term disability. Short-term disability policies cover short-term needs, so there’s typically less time to wait before you start receiving benefits. Most policies have an elimination period of seven to 14 days, although a handful of policies may offer other options. The policy starts paying out once that period of time has elapsed, and will continue to pay until your benefit period is up.
Long-term disability. Long-term disability plans usually come with elimination periods of 30, 60, 90, 180 or 365 days. Some insurers, like Guardian and MassMutual, offer a 720-day elimination period, too. The longer your elimination period, the cheaper your policy will be. This is because the range of illnesses and injuries that could put you out of commission — and work — for that long decreases over time.
Essential things to know about the elimination period
These are some of the key features of the elimination period:
If you recover before the elimination period ends, you won’t be eligible for a payout. With disability insurance, you only receive benefits if you’re still disabled after the elimination period has passed.
Elimination periods can accumulate. Let’s say your disability puts you out of work for a period of time. If you try to go back to work and realize you can’t, your insurer won’t restart the clock on your elimination period. It will just continue where you left off.
Most insurers will waive the elimination period if you file a second claim for the same disability. Provided you received benefits the first time, you won’t need to wait out another elimination period. But if you suffer from a different disability, the elimination period applies.
Does the length of the elimination period affect premiums?
Yes. If you choose a shorter elimination period, you’ll pay more for coverage. And if you go with a longer one, you could save on your premium — but just know that you’ll need to pay for any living or medical expenses out of pocket during that time.
Which elimination period is right for me?
It depends how long you can support yourself without a paycheck. Remember, the shorter the elimination period, the more you’ll pay in premiums.
The key is choosing an elimination period that aligns with the premium you can afford. To do the math, consider how much money you have in savings, and whether or not you’ll have new financial obligations in the future, like a mortgage or baby.
Let’s say you have enough savings to cover a year’s worth of living expenses. You could cut down your disability premium by choosing a longer elimination period, like 180 or 365 days. If your spouse is the breadwinner and could support you both, you could stretch out the elimination period longer.
But if you don’t have an emergency fund to fall back on, you might want a shorter waiting period.
Choosing an elimination period is one of the key decisions you’ll make when buying a disability policy. Depending on the type of coverage you have, the elimination period ranges from seven to 720 days, and the length you choose has a direct impact on your premiums.
Mostly yes. The terms are interchangeable, and the “elimination period” is the more technical term. However, the waiting period may be used differently if you’re referring to group coverage. There might be a “waiting period” in which you have to work at your current job before you’re eligible for benefits.
No. It starts on the day of the injury or diagnosis that left you disabled and unable to work. For example, if you were in a car crash and filed a claim 60 days later, your elimination period would begin on the day of the accident.
A probationary period applies to other types of insurance — like health — and is the length of time before coverage takes effect. You can’t file a claim during that time. With disability insurance, you’re protected as soon as you purchase your policy.
It depends on your insurer. Your check could take anywhere between two and 30 days to arrive — so keep that in mind when you choose an elimination period.
Katia Iervasi is a staff writer who hails from Australia and now calls New York home. Her writing and analysis has been featured on sites like Forbes, Best Company and Financial Advisor around the world. Armed with a BA in Communication and a journalistic eye for detail, she navigates insurance and finance topics for Finder, so you can splash your cash smartly (and be a pro when the subject pops up at dinner parties).
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