The Waiting Period for a Disability Insurance Policy

Almost everyone insures their home and car, but many people overlook insurance coverage for their most important financial asset: income. A disability insurance policy is designed to cover a portion of your salary if you can’t work due to injury or illness. But there is usually a waiting period that comes with a disability insurance policy.

The waiting period, or elimination period, is the amount of time that you are unable to work before your coverage kicks in. Once the waiting period has ended, you will receive your benefit in either a lump-sum check or installments to help cover a portion of your expenses. The waiting period is usually 30, 60, 90, 180 or 365 days, depending on the type of disability coverage you have.

There are two basic types of disability coverage: short-term and long-term. With short-term disability coverage, you could see waiting periods as short as 30 days, but you may pay a higher premium for this type of policy. Most short-term policies have a 30- to 90-day waiting period before coverage begins.

Long-term disability waiting periods can range from 90 days to a full year. As with other insurance products, you are not eligible to receive any payments during the waiting period.

People sometimes confuse waiting periods and probationary periods, but there’s an important distinction. The waiting period, also known as the elimination period, is the number of calendar days since your disability began that must pass before benefits become payable. The probationary period determines when you’re able to file a claim. Most long-term disability insurance policies don’t have probationary periods, meaning you’re typically covered as soon as you purchase your policy and could file a claim the next day if necessary.

Things to know about the disability insurance policy waiting period

  • The waiting period doesn’t have to be consecutive days. For example, if you’re out of work for a period of time, and then you try to return to work and realize you’re still unable to work, the waiting period doesn’t start over — it just continues from where you left off.
  • Most insurance providers will waive the waiting period if you file a second claim on the same condition after satisfying the previous waiting period. For instance, if you’re diagnosed with leukemia and go on disability for 10 months, and then recover and return to work but the leukemia comes back, you don’t need to wait through a second waiting period — as long as it has not been more than 6 or 12 months in a row, depending on your benefit period.

Learn more about the basics of disability income insurance.