What to Know About Social Security Disability Benefits

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 24, 2022
4 min read

A disability can cause serious financial problems for people who become too ill or injured to work. The American government provides a safety net by allowing certain people with severe disabilities to receive a social security benefit or disability support pension. These programs allow eligible individuals to receive monthly benefits and, in many cases, free healthcare. 

In 2021, over 1.8 million people applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and the government awarded benefits to approximately 572,000 applicants. Navigating the application process can be challenging and stressful, especially if you’re coping with a new or worsening disability. Arming yourself with knowledge can increase your chances of applying successfully. Find out what you need to know when you get social security disability benefits.

The Social Security Administration offers two assistance programs for individuals with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You may qualify for either or both of these initiatives depending on your circumstances. 

SSDI. This program provides monthly benefits for disabled people who can’t work for a year or longer due to a medical condition. You must have previously paid enough Social Security taxes on employment earnings to qualify for this benefit.  

Certain family members may also qualify for assistance from SSDI, such as your current or divorced spouse, minor children, and adult children who became disabled before they turned 22. 

SSI. Adults and children with certain disabilities may qualify for SSI. This program doesn’t consider work history when evaluating applicants. However, you must have limited financial assets and income. 

Both SSDI and SSI provide monthly financial benefits and often medical assistance. Anyone granted SSI can also automatically receive free Medicaid healthcare insurance in most states. By contrast, most SSDI recipients only qualify for Medicare after 24 months of disability payments. The only exception is people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), who can begin receiving Medicare immediately.

To qualify for SSDI or SSI, you must meet certain criteria. First, you must have a health condition that falls under the Social Security Administration’s strict definition of disability. Eligible disabilities may include:

  • Bone marrow failure 
  • Cancer
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Myocardial ischemia 
  • Musculoskeletal disorders 
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Schizophrenia 

The Social Security Administration only approves severe disabilities that prevent you from performing basic work-related tasks for at least one year. For an exhaustive list of eligible diseases, visit the Social Security Administration website. 

Other factors that the Social Security Administration uses to determine eligibility include:

  • Widowhood. You may be eligible for disability benefits if 1) you have a qualifying disability, 2) you’re between the age of 50 and 60, and 3) your current or divorced spouse dies. 
  • Vision. If you have a visual impairment that prevents you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.  
  • Work Credits. Typically, you must earn 40 work credits to qualify for SSDI, and you need to earn 20 of these credits in the last 10 years. You can earn one work credit for every $1,510 in income, and you can earn a maximum of four work credits per year.

To view the most up-to-date Social Security disability requirements, visit the Social Security Administration website.

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits in person, online, or over the phone. You’ll need to provide information about your family, health, and work history. For instance, the application will ask you to supply details about your: 

  • Children
  • Education and training
  • Job history
  • Marriage status
  • Medical conditions
  • Military service

An attorney, family member, medical professional, or Veterans Service Officer may be able to assist you with your disability application.

In 2022, you can receive a maximum of $3,345 in SSDI benefits. SSI will pay single individuals a maximum of $841 per month, and a married couple can receive up to $1,261.

However, most people don’t receive the maximum social security disability benefits. In September 2022, SSDI paid disabled workers an average of $1,363 a month. Children of disabled workers received an average of $430 and spouses received $377. 

You can only receive Social Security benefits if you’re younger than retirement age. Currently, adults aged 18 to 65 can qualify for SSDI. Individuals can qualify for SSI from birth to age 65. 

If you collect SSDI until your retirement age, the disability benefit won’t affect your retirement benefits. Instead, your SSDI benefits will automatically convert to your retirement allowance with no change in the amount. 

In some cases, you may need to pay income taxes on your Social Security benefits. 

Your SSDI benefits may be taxable if the sum of half of your benefits and all of your other income exceeds $25,000 for single filers or $32,000 for a married couple filing jointly. 

SSI benefits are never taxable.

The Social Security Administration denies around two-thirds of applications for disability benefits. If your application isn’t approved during your first submission, you can appeal within 60 days or start over with a new application. You may be more likely to get approved if your medical condition has worsened since your initial application. 

Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a complicated and confusing process. However, with the proper knowledge and persistence, you can increase your chances of receiving assistance.