Individuals & Families

How Much Disability Insurance Do I Need? (2024)

Garrett Agencies Team
March 14, 2024
5 min read

Key Insights

  • The repercussions of income loss due to disability vary significantly from one individual to another depending on their unique personal circumstances.
  • Disability insurance plays a vital role in supplementing your income should you become unable to work.
  • The likelihood of encountering a disability that impacts your ability to work is surprisingly high.

Your income is the cornerstone of your lifestyle and your family's security. Without income it becomes difficult to pay for...pretty much anything. However, while insuring tangible assets like cars and homes is standard practice, safeguarding our income often gets overlooked. Your ability to earn an income is arguably your greatest asset of all. Ensuring adequate coverage to support your monthly living expenses in the event of income loss due to disability - whether it be coverage offered by your employers, or an individual disability policy that you own yourself - is critically important. Our quality of life and our family's well-being rely on a consistent income flow.

Understanding the Impact of Income Loss

Insuring physical assets is common, yet the financial burden of losing income due to disability can have a profound and lasting effect. For instance, an average annual salary of $55,000, without considering inflation, could total $1.65 million over a 30-year career. This estimate doesn't even include potential salary increases, which could significantly elevate the total sum.

Disabilities can introduce additional costs, such as home modifications, in-home care, and higher medical expenses. Consider the effects of losing 20%, 30%, or 40% of your annual household income due to disability on your daily life:

Scenario 1: 20% Income Reduction

  • Initial Annual Income: $100,000
  • Reduced Annual Income: $80,000
  • Adapting to a 20% income reduction might involve scaling back on luxuries, leisure activities, and finding savings in daily expenditures to preserve essential needs and life quality.

Scenario 2: 30% Income Reduction

  • Initial Annual Income: $100,000
  • Reduced Annual Income: $70,000
  • A 30% income cut could force significant lifestyle changes, such as reconsidering housing options, reducing entertainment and travel expenses, and finding cost savings in utilities and groceries. It might also mean canceling or scaling down non-essential subscriptions or memberships.

Scenario 3: 40% Income Reduction

  • Initial Annual Income: $100,000
  • Reduced Annual Income: $60,000
  • A 40% income drop would necessitate major lifestyle adjustments, including moving to more affordable housing, depending on public transportation, and seeking community assistance for basic needs.

In every scenario, diligent budgeting, focusing on essential expenses, and exploring additional support avenues like disability insurance or community aid programs become essential. Seeking advice from a financial advisor can also offer strategies for coping with reduced income while striving to maintain a satisfactory quality of life.

The Probability of Experiencing a Disability

Although it's an uncomfortable thought, the chance of suffering a disability that affects your work ability is higher than many realize. About 40% of Canadians will experience a disability lasting 90 days or longer before age 65. Government initiatives like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Workers’ Compensation provide some relief, but their strict eligibility criteria can be a barrier. CPP benefits are designed for severe, long-term disabilities that prevent any employment, while Workers' Compensation is specific to work-related injuries, which mean that often (depending on the circumstances) people may not qualify to receive these benefits in the event of a disability

What to Expect from Disability Insurance Benefits

Disability insurance can assist in covering vital expenses, ranging from mortgage payments to groceries. For instance, an average annual income of $55,000 could qualify you for a monthly benefit of $3,225, translating to nearly $38,700 per year. For higher incomes, such as $120,000, the potential monthly benefit could reach nearly $6,000, or an annual sum of $71,100.

Understanding the Incentive Gap in Disability Insurance: Maximizing Your Coverage

Disability Insurance is thoughtfully designed with an 'incentive gap,' a concept that ensures coverage is typically limited to about 70% of an individual's pre-disability income. This gap, which widens as one's income increases, means that the percentage of income an insurance company is willing to insure decreases for higher earners. This approach not only motivates the insured to return to work when able, by creating a financial incentive to leave disability status, but it also aids insurance companies in managing risk and reducing the duration of claims. The increasing incentive gap at higher income levels is also a measure to deter malingering, ensuring that the system is used as intended: as a support mechanism during genuine times of need, rather than an alternative to employment.

For example:

  • $55,000 of income, translates to $38,700 per year of disability benefit. This benefit amount represents about 70% of income (i.e. $37,700 / $55,000 = 70%)
  • $120,000 of income, translates to $71,100 per year of disability benefit. This benefit amount represents about 59% of income (i.e. $71,100 / $120,000 = 59%)

Note how the benefit amount as a percentage of income decreases as income goes up.

Given this structure, it's wise for individuals to secure the highest level of disability coverage available based on their income. Since the benefit amount will invariably be less than their usual income—especially as this gap widens for those with higher earnings—maximizing disability coverage is important. This strategy ensures that, in the event of a disability claim, you receive the most substantial financial support possible, helping to cushion the impact of the reduced income. By obtaining the fullest coverage, you create a more robust financial safety net, allowing you to concentrate on recovery and the path back to employment with greater peace of mind.

Reviewing Employer-Provided Disability Insurance

Many Canadians benefit from disability coverage provided by their employers, though it may not fully meet their income replacement needs. Evaluating your current employer-provided coverage is an important step in understanding your total protection. A professional insurance advisor can assist you in determining how best to top-up the coverage you receive through your employer with an individual disability policy that you own and control.

Steps Forward

  • Creating a budget is essential for managing your living expenses effectively.
  • Assess your current coverage through your employer to identify potential shortfalls.
  • Consulting with an insurance advisor can aid in securing the right level of disability insurance coverage for your needs.

Understanding your disability insurance requirements can seem daunting, but gaining clarity on your needs and the options available is a vital step toward protecting your financial future against unforeseen challenges.

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