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    When Disability Strikes Unexpectedly

    Becoming disabled even for a short time can turn your life upside down. Extended disability can sometimes create financial problems and emotional stress.

    Knowing what to do if you become disabled can help lessen the stress and financial burden of disability.

    Check Out Your Options for Disability Assistance

    If you've become disabled and can't work, financial assistance may be available from a variety of sources. Each program has its own eligibility requirements, so you'll need to do some investigating.

    Here are key ways to get help when you are disabled:

    Group disability insurance. Some employers offer group disability insurance. If you're disabled and can't work, most plans pay between 40% and 65% of your income before you became disabled.

    Sometimes there are "waiting periods" before the policies begin paying benefits. These can range from 30 days to 6 months.

    If you're healthy now but want to be prepared in case you become disabled, check out disability policies with your employer or your insurance agent.

    Private disability insurance. Some people buy private disability insurance policies. You must do this before you're disabled.

    Short-term disability insurance usually replaces part of your income for just 3 to 6 months. Long-term disability insurance may last until you're 65, depending on the terms of your policy.

    Private disability insurance can cost between 1% and 3% of your annual salary, so a group policy through your employer may be more affordable.

    Workers' compensation. If you are disabled while on the job, you may qualify for workers' compensation. This program typically pays up to two-thirds of your income before you became disabled. It also covers medical expenses to treat the work injury.

    Regulations vary from state to state. Check with your state's employment department for information.

    State disability programs. A handful of states offer their own disability insurance plans. To qualify, you need to have been paying into the program through payroll deductions. Your state's department of employment can provide more information.

    Social Security. The Social Security program offers disability payments after you've been disabled for 5 months.

    Benefits are based on money that was withheld from your earnings and paid to Social Security by your employer. If you haven't worked or paid into the Social Security fund, you will not be eligible for benefits. In that case, you may qualify for Social Security supplemental insurance.

    Medicare. If you've been disabled for more than 2 years, you qualify for Medicare coverage even if you haven't reached retirement age.

    Medicare coverage is particularly useful if your disability involves ongoing medical care.

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