Northrop Grumman's Disability Insurance

What is Disability Insurance?

Disability insurance is a type of insurance that pays you a monthly benefit if you become disabled. You could think of it as an income replacement that can help you avoid the financial burden of losing your income if you are unable to work due to an accident, injury, or illness.

Why You Need Disability Insurance?

Disability insurance benefits can help you avoid depleting your emergency fund or retirement savings in the event of a disability. If you are the breadwinner, a disability could be more financially damning than a premature death, because although both events cause income to stop, a disability often brings prolonged increased expenses.

The average long-term disability claim is almost 3 years.1 Yet nearly half of American adults do not have enough savings to cover a month of living expenses.

Moreover, disability claims are for things you may not realize, like physical injuries, a heart attack, or cancer. The Social Security Administration (SSA) says that about 25% of people who are 20 years old today will be disabled for 90 days or more before reaching age 67. Hence, becoming disabled is not only possible but is highly probable.

Types of Disability Insurance

There are two types of disability insurance: short term and long term, and most people need both. The difference is the length of the benefit period and when the coverage begins. Long-term disability typically has an elimination period (time before benefits begin) of six months and can last for many years or until retirement. While short-term disability, as the name implies, has a shorter elimination period (waiting period) before benefits begin and generally lasts up to 6 months.

How Much Disability Insurance Do You Need?

The amount of disability benefit is called coverage, and the amount of coverage you need depends on a variety of factors, such as your occupation and financial obligations.

The amount of your coverage should be enough to fund all your non-discretionary expenses.

You should create a monthly budget and extrapolate from there. Additionally, because your disability may have resulted in higher medical bills, you may want coverage that exceeds your current expenses.

What Are Northrop’s Disability Benefits?

Short-Term

Northrop Grumman offers short-term disability to certain employees. The servicing company is Unum Life Insurance Company of America (Unum), so you will file your claim with them. If you are eligible for coverage, you will be automatically enrolled.

  • Elimination Period (Waiting Period): 0 days for a disability due to an injury; or 7 days for a disability due to sickness.
  • Coverage Amount: The policy pays 100% of your base weekly salary for 6 weeks, then the benefit drops to 60% for the next 20 weeks of disability. There is a dollar cap of $4,000 per week. And your benefits may be reduced by other sources of income.
  • Benefit Period: The policy provides benefits for up to 26 weeks if you are away from work due to an eligible illness or injury.
  • Disability Definition: The definition used is “Own Occupation.” Which the plan defines as when you are “limited from performing the material, and substantial duties of your regular occupation; and you have a 20% or more loss in weekly earnings due to that same sickness or injury.”
  • Cost: Provided to eligible employees at no charge.

Long-Term

Northrop has two long-term disability insurance policies: Basic and Optional. Depending on where you work, you may be eligible for both plans or just the Optional. According to Northrop, the Basic policy is not offered to certain “Electronic Systems business units”; however, if you are eligible, you will automatically be enrolled. Unum is the insurer for both plans, and if you enroll when newly eligible, no evidence of insurability is required.

  • Elimination Period (Waiting Period): Both policies have an elimination period of 6 months.
  • Coverage Amount: The Basic Policy provides 50% of your monthly base salary (any specialty pay/locality pay not included). The Optional Policy provides 10% of your base salary. So, if you have both policies, your total coverage is for 60% of your base salary. There is also a cap on the benefits payable, with a maximum monthly benefit of $15,000. Also, your monthly benefit will be reduced by “certain other income,” which includes disability income, Social Security, or Northrop’s pension.
  • Benefit Period: If your disability begins before age 60, your benefits will end at age 65. If your disability starts at age 60 or older, your benefits will end when you are no longer eligible, or you “kick the can.”
  • Disability Definition: During the first 24 months of your disability, your policy uses the “Own Occupation” definition (covered in more detail later). After the first 24 months, the policy’s definition changes to “Any Occupation.”
  • Cost: The Basic policy is provided to eligible employees at no charge. The cost of the Optional policy is based on your pay.

Note: Some pre-existing exclusions do apply.

What About Social Security?

Many people assume they’ll get Social Security disability benefits to cover their expenses if they became disabled. But it isn’t easy to qualify for, and the benefits are typically not adequate to cover all non-discretionary expenses. Additionally, you must meet a strict definition of disability, and there are no benefits for partial or short-term disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will also review your disability based on a variety of factors to determine if you qualify, including:

  • Are you working?
  • Can you do other work?
  • Severity of your disability
  • Has your disability lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death?
  • As well as your age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have.

If you qualify, benefits usually continue until you can work again on a regular basis. However, Northrop’s group coverage will be reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of your Social Security benefit.

Do You Need More Insurance?

Most employer-sponsored disability policies aren’t meant to cover 100 percent of your lost income, and Northrop Grumman’s policies are no different.

Northrop’s long-term policies only replace about 60 percent of your income.

Moreover, the policies have dollar caps on the amount of benefits paid. Therefore, depending on what your monthly base salary is, the Northrop policy may not provide the minimum coverage needed for all your non-discretionary expenses.

An individual long-term disability insurance policy can supplement Northrop Grumman’s group coverage or provide coverage if you don’t have the group plan.

Generally, long-term disability insurance is the only type worth buying since you can cover short-term disability with vacation time and your 3-6-month emergency fund. The premiums for private disability insurance are higher than a group policy. Typically, you can buy an individual policy for 1 to 3 percent of what you earn. As with life insurance, the earlier and healthier you are when you purchase disability insurance, the cheaper it will be. But the exact cost of the policy will depend on a variety of factors, such as

  • Occupation: The riskier your job, the more expensive the premium.
  • Elimination Period (Waiting Period):  A shorter waiting period is cheaper, but longer waiting periods could place a financial burden on you if you need the cash sooner. Typically, a 90-day waiting period is recommended.
  • Coverage Amount: If you want to receive more income in the event of disability, the premium will rise. It’s a good rule to get at least enough coverage to protect 60–70% of your income, but coverage can usually be purchased for up to 75-85 percent of your income.
  • Benefit Period: The longer the plan, the more it will cost. Policies typically cover terms of 2, 5, or 10 years or until retirement. The shorter the benefit period, the cheaper the premiums, but you may want to protect yourself until age 65.
  • Disability Definition: Disability insurance usually offers two definition options “any occupation” or “own occupation.” This definition determines the severity of disability needed to qualify for benefits. Own Occupation: Pays full benefits if you’re unable to perform your job, even if you can do another job. Typically, this definition is more expensive, but it is easier to qualify for benefits. Any Occupation: Usually cheaper, but benefits are only paid if you cannot reasonably do any job. Meaning you could have to work at a different location, or perhaps in a lower-wage position.

Tax Note: Group disability benefits paid with pre-taxed dollars or provided free of charge are taxable, while private benefits are not.

Final Thoughts

People sometimes dismiss the need for disability insurance and focus on life insurance. Yet, the odds that you become disable due to an illness or an accident are much greater than the odds of a premature death. Although Northrop’s disability benefits are in-line with the standard benefits package offered by most employers, it may not provide the coverage needed. Therefore, you may want to supplement your group benefits with private coverage. If you’re disabled for years, or if you need to rely on disability insurance until you retire, having a source of income that’s close to what you earned can be the difference between getting by and living securely.

1. Council for Disability Awareness

Published by Jose Armenta, MsBA, ChFC®, EA

Jose is a fee-only financial planner serving veterans who are Federal employees.

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