SSDI Benefits: What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

by Margot Lester   ·  2 months ago  
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Live with a disabling disease or injury? You’re probably eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance, provides financial aid to individuals unable to work due to a disabling condition, and these benefits offer vital assistance with living expenses and medical bills. Knowing how to access and maximize SSDI benefits can make a significant difference in your life, so if you’re wondering how Social Security Disability Insurance works, this article is for you.

SSDI Benefits Overview: Key Takeaways

  • SSDI is a wage replacement program for 18- to 64-year-olds with a work history who have a medical condition expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
  • Your dependents may also be eligible for support
  • You can apply online, by phone or mail and in person
  • Payments vary, but most folks get about $1,537 a month
  • You may also become eligible for Medicare/Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits

What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program in the United States designed to provide financial assistance to individuals who are unable to work due to a qualifying disability. Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSDI offers monthly benefits to individuals who have worked and paid Social Security taxes, thereby earning enough work credits to qualify. The program serves as a safety net for disabled workers, providing them with financial support to meet their basic needs and maintain a certain standard of living despite their inability to engage in substantial gainful activity due to their disability.

SSDI benefits are designed to support disabled workers and their dependents. You earn SSDI by working and paying Social Security taxes on what you make.

How Does Social Security Disability Work?

It provides partial wage replacement when you have a medical condition or injury that will keep you out of work for at least a year, or that could result in death. Payments are made monthly for as long as you can show your condition keeps you off the job.

Learn more about qualifying for SSDI benefits.

How Much Does SSDI Pay?

A lot of people ask, “How much is social security disability?” The short answer is: it depends. Your payment depends on how long you worked and what you made during your career. In 2024, the average is around $1,537 a month.

Here’s how the SSA calculates your SSDI payment:

  1. Determines your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) based on how much you earned and how much Social Security tax paid.
  2. Adjusts your wages for inflation
  3. Identifies your 35 highest-earning years
  4. Divides your AIME into three earnings groups to establish your Primary Insurance Amount: up to $1,174, between $1,175 and $7,078, and above $7,078
  5. Takes 90% of the first amount, 32% of the second and 15% of the third to calculate your final SSDI payment.

GOOD TO KNOW: You can get an estimated payment amount by creating an account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

What Other Benefits Can You Get on SSDI?

Qualifying for SSDI benefits may qualify you for other government support. If you’re on SSDI, you may be eligible for healthcare coverage through Medicare, SNAP food benefits, or even federal housing benefits. Here’s a look at your coverage options.

Healthcare Options for SSDI Recipients

Staying healthy is important regardless of your work status. Approval for SSID entitles you to lower-cost options like:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Good nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining your physical and emotional health when living with a disability. Because SSDI benefits are often your only source of income, paying for healthy food can be difficult. That’s why many SSDI recipients also apply for assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Federal Housing Benefits

SSDI doesn’t entitle you to federal housing assistance, but it can help you qualify for housing subsidies through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The department helps disabled individuals and their families pay for safe long-term or emergency rental or for-sale housing.

Explore federal housing assistance for people with disabilities.

How Do You Qualify for SSDI?

SSDI eligibility is determined by reviewing your work history, income, and your level of disability, with each Qualifying for SSDI benefits is a little complicated, so let’s break it down:

SSDI Work Credits

Work credits are an important factor in qualifying for SSA disability benefits. The number of credits required is based on how old you were when you became disabled. You get one work credit for every three-month period you paid Social Security taxes on your earnings, or four credits for every year you worked and paid taxes.

In general, you need 40 credits, half of which earned in the 10 years before your disability started. The amount you need to make to earn a work credit changes every year. In 2024, you get one credit for every $$1,640 you take home. Each credit is tied to one quarter of work, or 3 months time, meaning that if you’re employed for a full calendar year, you must earn $6,560 annually.

SSDI Income Limits

The SSA has strict income requirements for disability and they change periodically. If you’re sighted and earn more than $1,550 per month in 2024, you will not qualify for benefits. If you’re blind, the maximum income you can have per month is $2,590.

Proving Disability on SSDI

The SSA requires a lot of documentation to confirm that you’re too disabled to work and take care of daily activities, like personal hygiene, cooking and housekeeping. This includes medical evidence, such as:

Assessments of your ability to do physical and cognitive tasks related to your job

Copies of your medical records, including

  • X-rays, MRI or CT scans, if applicable
  • Lab test dates and results, if applicable
  • Doctor’s notes showing your diagnosis date, current treatments and progress, if applicable
  • A complete list of your current prescriptions, dosages and frequency, along with any side effects
  • Hospitalization, ER visits, surgery dates and receipts, if applicable
  • Physical therapy and/or vocational rehab documentation, if applicable
  • Documentation showing how often you saw your doctor to treat your condition and/or symptoms within the last year

Statements from doctors, yourself, and others about:

  • Your illness, injury or condition
  • When symptoms and disability started
  • How your activity has been limited
  • Treatments received
  • Conclusions from medical tests and assessments

How Do You Apply for SSDI?

You have two options when you’re ready to apply for SSA disability benefits:

  1. Apply on your own
  2. Get a disability advocate or lawyer to help you

GOOD TO KNOW: The SSA denies 38% of applicants for technical errors like leaving a required field blank or not providing sufficient documentation. These mistakes are easy to make when you’re unfamiliar with the forms and stressed out. That’s why a lot of folks hire a disability lawyer. You’re nearly 3x more likely to get benefits when an attorney files your paperwork, according to the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration.

When Should You Apply for SSDI?

Don’t wait to apply for SSDI disability! Start the process as soon as your doctor determines that your condition:

  • Prevents you from working full-time, and
  • Will last at least 12 months, or
  • Could lead to death

If you’re able to meet the responsibilities in your job description, your claim will be denied. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer is required to provide “reasonable accommodations” so you can stay on the job. Because Social Security Disability Benefits are designed for people who can no longer support themselves, ability to work a full time job that pays more than $1,550 in monthly payments will disqualify you from being eligible.

How to Apply for SSD on Your Own

In addition to the medical documents that establish your disability, gather the following documentation for your SSDI application:

  • Your Social Security Number and proof of age
  • Names and dosages of current medications
  • A summary of your past work experience and why you are no longer able to work
  • Your most recent W-2 or federal tax return
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors and hospitals who have treated you for your disabling condition

When you have all the data together, you can file one of three ways:

  1. Online. This is the fastest and easiest way to file for people who have access to the internet. Start by creating a MySocialSecurity account if you don’t already have one. Then go to the SSA’s website, log in and follow the prompts.
  2. By phone. Dial 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778) Monday through Friday to speak with an SSA representative who will walk you through the process.
  3. In person. Schedule an appointment with your local Social Security office. Find the office nearest you and its contact information using the SSA Field Office Locator.

Secure Your SSDI Benefits with a Disability Lawyer

The SSA approves about 1 in 5 people who apply on their own for SSD benefits, but you can boost your odds by working with a professional. Working with a disability lawyer is the best way to avoid errors that could get your claim denied, ease the burden on you and your family, and ensure you get the benefits you deserve. An attorney is also vital if you need to appeal an SSDI denial.

Are you ready to see if you qualify? Click here to get a FREE, no-obligation consultation before starting your claim.

Unlocking Your SSDI Benefits: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is SSDI?

SSDI means “Social Security Disability Insurance”. It’s a federal government program that delivers monthly financial support for Americans unable to work full-time because of a disability.

Who is eligible for SSDI benefits?

SSDI recipients must be 18 to 64 years old with a disability that prevents them from working full-time. They also must meet work history requirements and income thresholds.

What medical conditions qualify for SSDI?

SSA disability covers all kinds of conditions, including musculoskeletal, surgical recovery, mental and behavioral health, chronic illnesses, severe infections and progressive diseases.

What is the difference between SSDI and SSI?

SSDI benefits are for people who have a work history and have been paying Social Security taxes. SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is for people who don’t have a work history, are vision-impaired and live on a limited income.

What documentation do I need to apply for SSDI benefits?

You need a Social Security Number and proof of age, plus other documents including medical records, tax returns, information about your medical condition and employment history.

How long does it take to get approved for SSDI benefits?

The timeline varies but generally takes three to five months. Sometimes the SSA requests additional medical review or an exam, which makes the process longer. 

Can I work while receiving SSDI benefits?

Yes, as long as you follow SSA’s substantial gainful activity guidelines that limit on how much you can earn while still receiving benefits. If you make too much, you can lose your benefits.

Will receiving other benefits affect my SSDI eligibility?

It can. But there’s no impact if you receive state- or locally-funded need-based assistance, HUD rent subsidies, or SNAP benefits.

Are there any programs or resources available to help me navigate the SSDI process?

Yes! Here are a few programs to help you with applying for SSDI.

Margot Lester
CEO at The Word Factory | + posts

Margot Lester is the CEO of The Word Factory, a B2B & B2C content marketing agency that provides services for Fortune 100 brands, healthtech companies and SaaS developers. An award-winning business and brand journalist, she writes for daily and weekly newspapers and business journals, national magazines, in-flight publications and leading websites. Margot is also an in-demand writing coach and organizational communications trainer, helping individuals and teams write more effectively. Twitter: @word_factory LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/margotlester.