Unexpected medical emergencies, like COVID-19, can put you out of work for a short – or an extended – period of time. Read on to learn how to navigate these situations, prepare financially and make the most of your employer’s benefit programs.
Nobody likes thinking about the possibility of an unexpected medical emergency – especially if you’re fit and healthy, or young and new to the workforce. The reality, however, is that more than one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach age 67.
Should something unexpected happen, it’s common for employers to have programs in place to help you through the difficult times. U.S. Bank Wealth Manager Shannon Baustian says these programs can offer meaningful support for people who qualify to receive benefits. Still, she adds, no program is a silver bullet.
“The only way to really cover your bases is to get your personal finances in order before you need the help in the first place,” she says. “Don’t let yourself become dependent on an employer or government program to pull you through if you’re unable to work. The programs aren’t designed to deliver long-term or comprehensive payouts.”
And take note: Every benefits program is different. It can vary on the industry field, size of the organization or even if it’s public or private. So make sure to check into your employer’s benefits program.
There are two basic types of disability insurance: short-term coverage and long-term coverage. Both are set to replace a certain part of your monthly base salary during disability, up to a specific dollar amount.
Short-term disability insurance
Long-term disability insurance
Different policies have different definitions of “disabled,” and pay out only under certain conditions. Your employer’s HR department will help you understand what options you have, and which makes sense for your situation:
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
This act, effective through December 31, 2020, requires certain employers to give employees paid sick leave or extended family or medical leave due to coronavirus. Employees that are affected by coronavirus, or are the care provider for someone directly affected by coronavirus, may be eligible for:
Keep in mind that this act did not amend the existing Family and Medical Leave Act, and therefore some exceptions may not apply. It is best to check with your employer about which leave or disability you may be qualified for and potential extended benefits.
While disability insurance replaces some of your income, it has its limitations:
While purchasing additional insurance might not be the right move for everyone, it’s an option to consider. Regardless, Baustian emphasizes the importance of personal financial responsibility in planning for the unexpected.
“Long-term care gets calculated based on your age and your health,” she says. “So it’s less costly if you buy it early and when you’re healthy versus down the line when you might have developed health issues. I always recommend purchasing the additional insurance if your employer makes it available.”
There’s a common misperception about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Baustian notes. Some think SSDI covers you if you’re suddenly unable to work due to injury or illness.
According to the Social Security Act:
As far as Baustian is concerned, taking steps toward your financial freedom is every bit an investment. It’s an investment both directly and indirectly in your overall well-being.
“Financial stress has a big impact on your personal health and relationships,” she explains. “The best strategy is to put yourself in a place where you can make decisions that eliminate that stress – or maybe even prevent it from building up in the first place.”
In practical terms, that process involves tallying how much your lifestyle costs each month. Calculate your fixed expenses (regular bills for housing, utilities, etc.) and your variable costs (groceries, discretionary spending).
“Once you do that upfront planning, you have a better sense of where you stand,” says Baustian. “When to trigger those benefits. How much you’ll need to close the gap between what you were earning and your disability income.”
A common rule of thumb is reserve three to six months of total living expenses, put into savings, and leave it be. But Baustian takes a more conservative approach. “I say get yourself set up for 12 months, minimum. That’s a full year of coverage if you need it. And hopefully you never do.”
While you work toward a year’s worth of wages in your emergency fund, start exploring the benefits your employer offers. Dig into what your employer offers in terms of ancillary benefits and decide which benefits make sense for your own situation.
A great example is backup daycare. This benefit is huge for parents. It can mean the difference between finding daycare within hours and getting back to work or taking an unpaid personal day.
Other examples might include tuition assistance, adoption assistance, surrogacy assistance and Family and Medical Leave.
In the end, there’s money out there, but you might have to ask for it. Employees should be looking at opportunities to make the most of their benefits without a quote.
To learn more about whether your employer’s long-term disability insurance may be enough, get the breakdown here.
 Department of Labor, Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights, June 2020.