Disability insurance riders let you customize how your short- or long-term disability policy protects your income if you are unable to work after an illness or injury. Some riders come free with your policy, while others can raise your monthly premiums. Not all add-ons are necessary — it depends on what your job is or how long you expect to work before retiring, for example.
How does a disability rider work?
Disability insurance riders are optional add-ons that can increase your policy’s protection, either for free or a small cost — often about $5 per rider per month. Riders can provide benefits such as extra payments for child care, skills training after an injury or disability payments even if you can work a different job.
Free disability riders
Some disability insurance riders are available for your policy without a fee. If they aren’t built into your disability policy, you may have to ask your insurer to include them.
Because each insurer has its own rules surrounding riders, confirm the cost and signup details during the quote process or in your policy documents.
This rider pauses your monthly premiums if you can’t work due to a disability. Your coverage stays active during this time, helping you to avoid a lapse in coverage. Once you’re able to return to work, you start paying your premiums again.
Automatic increase rider
This add-on boosts your monthly disability payout each year for five or six years without a medical exam.
Though the rider is free, your premiums increase each year based on your age unless you opt out of the benefit. In that way, they’re only worth it if you expect your salary to increase with your disability payout over time.
Guaranteed renewable rider
This rider guarantees you’ll be able to renew your policy after it expires. This prevents your insurance company from canceling your policy as you age or if you become sick — as long as you pay your monthly premiums.
Despite the guaranteed coverage, you might be charged a higher premium when you renew your policy that’s adjusted for your age and any new health factors.
Because most disability policies are already designed as guaranteed renewable, this rider is mostly a marketing tactic.
Presumptive disability rider
This rider lets you access your full long-term disability benefit if you lose your speech, hearing in both ears, sight in both eyes or loss of use of your hands or feet — regardless of whether you can still work. You’ll receive your benefit for the maximum benefit period you choose when purchasing your policy, for long-term disability this could be until social security retirement age.
It’s worth adding to your policy since it’s usually free and replaces the income from your current job, even if you can still work in another career or field.
Family care benefit rider
This add-on usually offers an additional lump sum payment on top of your monthly payout to help cover the costs of caring for loved ones if you’re unable to work due to a disability.
If you have kids or take care of family members who are sick, elderly or have a disability, a family care benefit rider can provide the financial assistance to pay someone else to care for them while you can’t.
Survivor benefit rider
If you die while receiving disability payments, this rider pays your spouse or children a lump sum amount worth up to three times your maximum monthly disability benefit.
It doesn’t replace life insurance, but if your loved ones depend on you, this rider can provide financial resources to help them get by while they grieve.
Occupational rehab rider
This add-on helps pay for vocational or job skills training to help you get back to work after a long-term disability — including help with finding, keeping or building skills for a job. This add-on can be especially helpful if you have an own-occupation disability policy that allows you to work in your usual job while receiving disability benefits.
What’s the difference between own-occupation and any-occupation policies?
An own-occupation policy is considered a more flexible definition of disability than an any-occupation policy because it pays out your benefit regardless of whether you can work a different job from your original occupation.
By contrast, an any-occupation policy pays out your benefit only if your disability keeps you from working at all.
Compare disability insurance with riders
Choose four companies, select Compare to see how its coverage amounts and benefit periods stack up then get quotes with the companies who fit your coverage needs best.
Which disability riders are worth paying for?
If you can afford to add these disability riders to your policy, they can help you get higher payouts or make it easier to qualify for disability coverage — meaning you’re more likely to get to use the benefits you’re paying for.
This rider locks in your disability rates while you’re young. As long as you pay your premiums, you’re guaranteed that your insurer won’t cancel policy, reduce your benefits or increase your premiums.
If you’re close to retiring and won’t need income replacement for much longer, the extra costs may not be worth it.
Partial disability rider
This rider eliminates the need to meet the “total disability” definition to receive your benefits. If an illness or injury limits your ability to work or forces you to decrease your working hours, you’re still eligible to receive a portion of your disability benefit.
This add-on is especially valuable if you’re a doctor, attorney or in another field where income directly relates to the amount of hours you can work.
Future purchase increase rider
This add-on allows you to top up your disability insurance coverage at any time during your policy without having to go through the underwriting process again, although you’ll have to pay for the additional coverage.
If you expect your income to increase substantially over time — say you’re a medical resident becoming a doctor — you are approved for more coverage regardless of your health status.
With an own-occupation policy, you’re eligible to receive benefits if you can’t perform the duties of your current job, even if you can do another job.
This is an especially valuable rider if you’re in a specialized, highly paid or physical profession, such as a surgeon who suffers a hand disability and transitions to a lower-paying field like medical research. It ensures you receive your full disability benefits whether you pursue another profession or not.
What other disability riders can I buy?
If you’ve opted into the most valuable riders and have the budget, consider other riders designed to enhance your disability policy.
Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) rider
This add-on adjusts your monthly benefit for inflation after you start receiving disability benefits. Your benefit amount increases each year you’re on disability either at a fixed rate like 3% or based on the consumer price index.
Once your disability is over, your benefit may be reset back to its original amount, or you may have the option to purchase the increased benefit amount for an increased premium. If you have a future purchase option rider, you may not need this expensive add-on, since you can account for inflation by purchasing more coverage in the future instead.
Catastrophic disability benefit rider
If you’re cognitively impaired or unable to perform two activities of daily living (ADLs) on your own, like bathing or getting dressed, you’ll receive an additional monthly benefit on top of your monthly disability insurance payout to help pay for a caretaker. This rider could be ideal if you don’t have family support or the savings to pay for assistance.
Student loan rider
This add-on covers a portion of your student loan payments while you’re receiving disability benefits. You may only need this benefit if you have a total loan repayment that’s higher that your annual income, or lasts more than 10 years.
Life insurance with disability income riders
If you’re considering getting life insurance, you may see riders for life insurance policies that serve less robust versions of disability insurance or offer payouts while you’re still alive.
- Accelerated death benefit rider. This rider pays out a portion of your death benefit if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness.
- Disability income rider. Pays out a monthly benefit equal to a percentage of your life insurance coverage if you can’t work due to a disability.
- Critical illness benefit rider. Pays out a lump sum benefit if you’re diagnosed with a critical illness, like cancer or a stroke.
Life insurance with a disability rider vs. disability insurance with a life rider
A life insurance policy with a disability rider generally offers less income protection coverage than a disability policy and requires your disability to be permanent. For example, if your death benefit is $200,000, your benefit could pay $2,000 a month. This might be a good option if you can only afford life insurance but want a little disability protection.
A disability policy with a life insurance rider offers a much lower death benefit than a traditional life insurance policy. For example, if your maximum monthly benefit is $12,000, your policy’s survivor benefit may be worth $36,000. This might be a good option if you can afford disability insurance only but still want to cover end-of-life expenses like funeral costs.
Disability insurers offer a variety of add-ons that can help you customize your policy for your personal circumstances. Some riders are offered for free, and others increase your monthly premium. Find out how each rider works to help you determine which are worth the additional cost — and which benefits you might be able to skip.
To protect your paycheck in case of illness or injury, compare disability insurance to find a policy with the add-ons you need at the lowest price.