Whether you’re driving an 18-wheeler across the country or delivering packages around town, being a driver is demanding work.
Your work may include heavy lifting, pushing a two-wheel dolly in and out of buildings, and maneuvering an unwieldy vehicle across highways and through rush-hour traffic.
The nature of your work means a number of injuries or illnesses can keep you off the road for an extended period. If that happens, your income will dry up.
If the injury or illness is job-related, workers' compensation may replace some of your lost income. But if you’re hurt in another way and can’t work, where will your income come from?
Social Security won’t be much help. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has a strict definition of disability. Most applications are initially denied.
To qualify, you must be significantly limited in your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering. In addition, the condition must be severe enough that it’s expected to last at least 12 months and/or result in death. Otherwise, Social Security will not consider you disabled.
If you manage you get through the application process and receive a favorable benefits ruling, don’t expect a large check each month. According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly disability paid by SSDI was $1,234 at the beginning of 2019. That’s a little under $15,000 a year.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers was $47,130 in 2020.
The best way to protect you and your family from the potential for lost income is disability income insurance. It’s designed to replace a major portion of your income if you are unable to work due to injury or illness.
Without disability insurance, you could lose a significant amount of income and all that your income supports if you’re in a bad accident, lose your vision, or suffer an illness that affects your ability to work in your chosen trade. Even if the disability is temporary, you could fall behind on your mortgage or car payments, rack up more debt, and be forced to sell valuable items or tap into retirement accounts for needed cash.
Short-term disability coverage is usually provided by employers and covers individuals, on average, for about six months. You will typically be reimbursed for about 60 percent of your lost wages due to disability.
On the other hand, long-term disability plans are designed to protect people from illness or injury that keep them out of work for an extended period. Benefits may last from five to 10 years, and some will pay up until the insured reaches age 65.
There are two main sources for where to get disability insurance: You can buy a policy that’s part of a large group plan, either through your employer, labor union, or trade association; and/or purchase your own individual policy.
Here are examples of what truck drivers might pay for disability insurance:
- A 30-year-old male truck driver living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and earning $40,000 a year could get a $900 monthly benefit for $22 a month, a $1,700 monthly benefit for $38 a month, or a $2,480 monthly benefit for $58 a month. These rates are for a 5-year benefit period and a 90-day waiting period.
- A 37-year-old female truck driver living in Indianapolis, Indiana, and earning $52,000 a year could get a $1,100 monthly benefit for $44 a month, a $2,100 monthly benefit for $82 a month, or a $3,130 monthly benefit for $132 a month. These rates are for a 5-year benefit period and a 90-day waiting period.
- A 44-year-old male delivery driver working in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and earning $60,000 a year could get a $1,200 monthly benefit for $42 a month, a $2,300 monthly benefit for $79 a month, and a $3,400 monthly benefit for $130 a month. These rates are for a 10-year benefit period and a 90-day waiting period.
- A 52-year-old male who owns a trucking business in Phoenix, Arizona, and earning $85,000 a year could get a $1,500 monthly benefit for $75 a month, a $3,000 monthly benefit for $167 a month, or a $4,430 monthly benefit for $267 a month. These rates are for a 5-year benefit period and a 90-day waiting period.
Insurance companies set your monthly premium on the following factors:
- Your age and health. The younger and healthier you are, the less you will pay.
- Your income. Disability insurance is designed to replace a percentage of your income if an injury or illness limits your ability to work as an attorney.
- Where you live.
- The benefits and features of your disability insurance policy.
Another factor that strongly influences what you pay for disability insurance is your job.
Disability insurance companies group jobs into specific occupational classes. These classes take into account the hazards of the job and the difficulty in returning to work following a disability. Another factor is the claim experience associated with certain professions.
Insurance companies generally classify occupations on a scale of 1 to 5 or 6. Typically, the higher the numerical value of the classification the lower the rate available from the insurance company.
Not all truck drivers and delivery drivers are treated equally by insurers. Three factors will determine how you are classified:
The size of truck you drive
The larger your truck, the more unfavorable your occupation classification.
The cargo you typically haul
Hauling hazardous materials will put you in a lower occupation class.
How long you’re on the road
Some insurance companies put truck drivers in different occupation classes based on whether they return home each night. One insurer puts those who do return home each night in the 2nd of 4 classes. Those who are on the road for more than one night are rated in the 1st of 4 classes. This same insurer also puts furniture movers, and truck drivers who haul liquor, gasoline, or hazardous materials in the 1st class.
Some carriers won’t provide coverage to long-haul truck drivers. Others may place local drivers in a special class, often labeled Class B, which covers the most hazardous insurable work.
Employee vs owner-operator
Disability insurance companies also typically treat owner-operators and independent contractors more favorably than employees of trucking firms.
Many carriers offer an “owner upgrade” or “income enhancer” for business owners, such as independent owner-operators. This could enable you to move up to a higher occupation class than an employee driver, which makes your coverage less expensive. The income enhancer enables you to apply for a higher benefit.
Finally, if you own a trucking or delivery business, your disability coverage should also include business overhead expense (BOE) insurance.
Whereas regular disability insurance covers individual income, a BOE policy will help cover your monthly business expenses if an injury or illness impacts your ability to work.
BOE policies vary but you can typically get one that pays a maximum monthly benefit between $15,000 and $25,000. If you obtain BOE that is bundled with your personal disability policy, the maximum benefit may be a factor of that benefit amount; for example, the BOE benefit maximum might be equal to 12 times the benefit on your personal policy.
BOE benefits can help you cover your truck payment and other expenses that will be owed even if you are not operating.
Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.
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