Social Security Disability Guide

Social Security disability benefits are distributed through the Social Security Administration (SSA) to qualified U.S. citizens. The program was designed to provide compensation as a safety net to working Americans that are, or became, disabled. 

SSDI benefits are different from the Supplemental Security Income program, or SSI, for short. SSI provides benefits to disabled adults, as well as children, who come from low-income households. Social Security disability insurance, on the other hand, is intended for those who already paid into Social Security as part of their working wages. Learn more about if you qualify for these benefits in the sections outlined below.  

What are Social Security disability benefits? 

The SSDI application is available to you, if you are disabled, as well as certain family members residing in your household. So long as you worked for a specific amount of time, and paid into Social Security taxes while doing so, you can apply for benefits. Your adult child has the ability to qualify under your SSDI benefits, if he or she became disabled before turning the age of 22. 

What is the application process like for SSDI?
You can complete an application for SSDI in one of three ways. These include: 

  1. Online, via the Social Security Administration website. 
  2. By phone, where you can call toll-free or a specific TTY line if you are deaf or hard of hearing. 
  3. In person, at your nearest Social Security office. 

When it comes to how to qualify for disability benefits, you must be able to provide required information on your application, first. This includes: 

  • Proof of age. 
  • Your Social Security Number.
  • The names and contact information for your doctors, hospitals, caseworkers and clinics, along with dates of your visits.
  • Medical records from all of the above parties. 
  • The names and dosages of any medications you are currently prescribed and consuming. 
  • Any lab and testing results that are available. 
  • Information on your workplace and the duties you performed. 
  • Your most recent tax paperwork. 

If you are seeking SSDI benefits for members in your household, be prepared to provide information for each person. This includes:

  • Social Security Numbers.
  • Proof of age. 
  • Proof of marriage, if it is your spouse who is seeking to apply for benefits.
  • Dates of any prior marriages, if applicable. 

What are the eligibility requirements for SSDI benefits? 

Social Security disability requirements enforce that a beneficiary first meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled, in order to be considered for payments. The criterion by which this is determined means answering questions like:

  1. Are you working? As of 2019, if you are actively working, and your earnings total more than $1,220 per month, you cannot be considered disabled. 
  2. Is your condition “severe?” If you condition significantly limits your ability to perform basic duties at work, like standing, lifting, walking, sitting or remembering, for at least 12 months, you may be considered disabled. 
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? Typically, your circumstance must be outlined on the SSA’s official list of medical conditions, in order to obtain Social Security disability benefits. However, there are two initiatives that help expedite this analysis, including:
  • Compassionate Allowances, which are qualifiable as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed (Lou Gehrig’s disease and pancreatic cancer, included).
  • Quick Disability Determinations, which utilizes a computer system to identify cases with high probabilities of allowance.
  1. Can you do the work you did previously? An assessment by the SSA is performed to determine if your impairment significantly prevents you from performing your work duties or not. 
  2. Can you do any other type of work? If your former job cannot be performed, the SSA will seek alternative work for you, in lieu of assessing SSDI benefits, despite your impairment. Additional considerations include: age, past work experience, education and any transferable skills you may possess. 

Additionally, you can request SSDI assistance help under special situations. These are listed as:

  • If you are blind or have low vision. 
  • If you are the worker’s widow or widower.
  • If you are seeking benefits for a disabled child. 
  • If you are seeking benefits as a wounded warrior or veteran.

Another requirement for SSDI is that you have worked long, and recently, enough to qualify. The work credits you obtain for Social Security are based on your yearly wage total or self-employment earnings, and you can earn up to four credits, annually. This changes from year to year, however. In 2019, one credit is equivalent to the earnings of $1,360. 

Other factors include your age when you become disabled. In general, you need 40 total credits, 20 of which were earned over the course of the past 10 years, ending in the year you became disabled.

Note: Younger workers may qualify with a lower credit total. 

How much in SSDI benefits can a qualified individual receive?

Once approved for Social Security disability benefits, you will be paid for the full, six-month term that occurs after the date your disability is found to have begun. You are then paid the month following the SSDI benefits due date, thereafter. 

The amount of Social Security disability payments you will receive will be based on your lifetime average earnings that are covered by Social Security. You can seek out an exact estimate online, through the SSA website, or use the generic benefits calculator, which can tell you how much you would receive in benefits, if you were to become disabled at the given moment. 

Your SSDI payments may be reduced if you are receiving other government benefits, already. Benefits that can affect SSDI allotments include: 

  • Workers’ compensation. 
  • Public disability benefits. 
  • Pensions based on work that is not covered by the SSA. 

In addition, you may be eligible for Medicare following the collection of SSDI benefits for a two-year period. There are also options available for low-income Medicare patients, where the state may opt to pay your premiums, as well as certain costs related to coinsurance and deductibles. However, this is determined on a state-to-state basis.