Short-term disability insurance pays a portion of your income if you are unable to earn a living due to a non-work-related accident or illness. If you are injured on the job, workers’ compensation should pay your medical bills and also provide income. But, if you have a debilitating illness, such as cancer or heart disease, or are injured outside of work, short-term disability insurance usually replaces up to 70% of your base salary for up to one year (three to six months is typical).
Workers may have choices between employer-sponsored short-term disability coverage and a private policy. A handful of states mandate that most employers provide short-term disability coverage for full-time employees, including New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (beginning January 2021), and Connecticut (beginning January 2021).
If you don’t live in one of these states, it’s smart to shop around for disability insurance coverage. The Council for Disability Awareness says that 25% of all 20-year-olds will experience a disability lasting 90+ days by the time they reach age 67.
We evaluated nearly two dozen disability insurance providers based on policies, pricing, features, and ratings to select the best short-term disability insurance companies.
The 6 Best Short-Term Disability Insurance Companies of 2020
Best Overall: Northwestern Mutual
Northwestern Mutual is one of the longest-running and highest-rated insurance companies available, providing short-term disability coverage, life insurance, and more. Rated A++ by AM Best and earning high marks from the other financial rating organizations, the company has been around since 1857.
Northwestern Mutual’s longevity, financial strength, and coverage options are what earned it our top spot for the best short-term disability insurance for individuals and companies, alike. The company offers policies at varying price points, each of which offers its own set of options, benefits, and coverage levels. For a lower price, you can get a policy where your benefits won’t change over time. You can also upgrade your policy to get up to 6% inflation protection annually.
Because Northwestern Mutual is owned by its policyholders, rather than investors, customers may also receive dividends based on their policies. The company has a 96% retention rate for customers, which is testament to its service.
Northwestern Mutual will not allow you to get a quote online. Instead, customers can contact a knowledgeable company representative to help explain the options available for short-term disability coverage.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Ameritas Life Insurance
In business since 1887 and rated A by AM Best, Ameritas is extremely strong financially and has a long, reputable history. These factors, coupled with its wide variety of policies and riders, are what earned it the runner-up position among short-term disability companies we reviewed.
Ameritas Life Insurance offers extremely flexible policies with riders available for cost-of-living increases, increases based on your salary, and a catastrophic disability rider to help pay for living expenses if you cannot care for yourself. The company offers “own occupation” coverage, which means you can make a disability claim if you can’t work in your field, even if you could hold other jobs.
Features of Ameritas’ DInamic Foundation policy include medical expense reimbursement, shortened elimination period times for new policyholders in good health, and COBRA premium reimbursement if you lose your healthcare coverage due to unemployment as a result of your disability.
The company’s DInamic Fundamental policy provides more affordable insurance for employees who work 30+ hours a week in low-risk occupations. Quotes are available online, but it’s still a good idea to speak with an agent to explore your options.
Most Affordable: Aflac
Aflac has one of the most affordable short-term disability coverage plans, with weekly premiums costing around $8—less than the price of a movie ticket. Newer to the scene than some other top-rated short-term disability providers, Aflac was founded in 1955. Nonetheless, it holds an A+ (Superior) rating from AM Best and shows strong long-term financial stability.
Aflac has also been accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since 1958 and holds an A+ rating. The company received 3.5 out of 5 stars from Consumer Affairs customer reviews.
The coverage terms for AFLAC are shorter than some of the other companies on this list, paying benefits for only six weeks. Policy renewals, however, are guaranteed up to age 75, and the value rider adds another $1,000 in payouts for every five consecutive years the policy is in force.
Aflac also offers easy online claims processing and an elimination period of just one to seven days. This makes Aflac both affordable and convenient. These factors, coupled with high customer satisfaction, are what earned it our ranking as most affordable on our list of best short-term disability companies.
Best Service: MassMutual
While MassMutual failed to stack up to other providers on this list in some areas, one area where it gave even Northwestern Mutual a run for its money is in customer service. MassMutual’s service is stellar, and the company has earned a 4-star review average at Consumer Affairs, with customers routinely citing hassle-free claims and affordable premiums. In our review, MassMutual has been selected as having the best service among competitors.
The company has a B- rating with the Better Business Bureau, primarily due to just a few (14) unresolved customer complaints. Overall, however, the company has fewer BBB complaints than many other insurance companies, with 54 complaints closed in the past three years and only 16 in the past 12 months. With an A++ rating from AM Best, and in business since 1851, MassMutual is also an extremely reputable and financially secure company.
MassMutual offers flexible disability income policies that allow you to choose a rider so your coverage will increase as your salary goes up. The disability income insurance calculator on the MassMutual website makes it easy to determine how large a policy you may need. You can’t get a quote online, but the website’s informative resources can help you explore your options before you speak to a representative.
Best for Self-Employed: Breeze
Disability insurance income can be especially crucial for freelancers and independent contractors since they won’t have any disability income protection available through employers. Breeze is a new insurance company founded in 2019 that provides policies that are especially helpful to this niche group of clients. Breeze underwrites policies through Assurity Life Insurance Company, which has an AM Best rating of A-, showcasing the insurer’s financial strength.
Independent contractors who use Breeze are able to obtain short-term disability coverage online without having to leave their homes to sign paperwork or speak to an agent. It only takes 10 minutes to apply. Breeze offers own-occupation coverage, which means if you’re unable to manage your freelance business, you can make a claim to replace part of your income. The waiting period for benefits to kick in could be as short as two weeks, and coverage from Breeze typically replaces a freelancer’s income for up to six months. For these reasons and more, we chose Breeze as best for self-employed in our short-term disability company review.
Breeze’s underwriter, Assurity, is accredited by the Better Business Bureau since 1992 and has an A+ rating with just three complaints in the past 12 months.
Best for Coverage Options: Mutual of Omaha
Another reputable and long-standing insurance provider, Mutual of Omaha has been around since 1909, when it became incorporated as the Mutual Benefit Health & Accident Association. Rated A+ by AM Best, Mutual of Omaha exhibits outstanding financial strength. It has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau since 1940 and has an A+ rating, making it one of the few short-term disability insurance companies accredited by the BBB.
Its financial strength, reputation for stellar service as exemplified by its BBB rating, and the variety of disability coverage choices it offers make Mutual of Omaha stand out as best for coverage options in our review.
Mutual of Omaha offers short-term disability insurance with elimination periods as short as zero days, which means your benefits may kick in immediately when you file a claim. You can opt for coverage from three months to two years, making Mutual of Omaha one of the more robust coverage options available. Premiums also remain level throughout your life, although coverage ends at age 67.
Mutual of Omaha’s base policy provides a partial disability benefit if you can’t perform your own job, and full benefits if you can’t work at all. You can choose from several riders that extend coverage for specifical critical illnesses, hospitalization, and medical expenses.
What Is Short-Term Disability Insurance?
Short-term disability insurance is coverage that replaces part of your income if you are unable to work either in your own occupation or any job, depending on the policy you choose. People may buy short-term disability insurance if they don’t have coverage through their job and don’t have emergency savings they can tap into if they become unable to work.
In some cases, short-term disability can also be a good investment for high-earners who would rather not tap into investment funds if they are unable to work for a short period of time.
Short- vs. Long-Term Disability Insurance
While short-term disability insurance typically provides coverage that starts after about two weeks and lasts for up to six months, long-term disability insurance covers people who are unable to work for longer periods of time. This coverage usually doesn’t kick in until short-term benefits run out (usually three to six months). However, it can provide policyholders with coverage to replace their incomes for periods lasting several years.
What Does Short-Term Disability Insurance Typically Include?
While short-term disability insurance can replace part of your income for a period of time, that period doesn’t usually start the same day that you file a claim. Instead, most insurers have periods of time, called elimination periods, between when you file a claim and when the companies begin paying benefits. Most short-term disability policies have a waiting period of two weeks, although some companies may have no elimination period for some claims.
In addition to this upfront period, most short-term benefits last for three to six months, and then they run out. Coverage from some companies, however, can last as long as two years. Some policies may also have optional riders for medical expense reimbursement or might pay a lump sum if you’re critically ill with a disease like cancer. Customers can also often choose own-occupation policies, which allow you to file a claim if you can’t work in your current career.
What Does Short-Term Disability Insurance Typically Exclude?
In addition to elimination periods and time periods after benefits end, short-term disability may exclude workplace injuries (though these should be covered by workers’ compensation). Some policies may also exclude coverage for things like:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Time off to care for a child
- Pregnancy or childbirth
What Are the Typical Costs of Short-Term Disability Insurance?
Short-term disability quotes may start as low as $8 per week, or $32 per month. Depending on the state you live in, your age, your overall health, and your career, premiums can vary widely. Your level of coverage and additional riders also affect premium costs.
Is Short-Term Disability Insurance Worth It?
If you don’t have emergency savings, short-term disability insurance gives you peace-of-mind that you’ll be protected if you lose your paycheck due to non-work-related injury or illness. Instead of buying coverage, policyholders could always self-insure by setting aside money each month as emergency savings in case they get hurt and can’t work. However, you’d have to set aside quite a bit of money each month in order to match the benefits available for just $32 per month in policy premiums.
How We Chose the Best Short-Term Disability Insurance Companies
We reviewed more than 20 companies to find the best short-term disability companies in a variety of categories. We assessed each provider based on product offerings, coverage flexibility, riders and other options, as well as ratings for financial strength and customer service.
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Consumer Affairs. "Aflac." Accessed June 20, 2020.
Better Business Bureau. "Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company." Accessed June 25, 2020.
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