Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits – Who's Eligible and How it Works

While I’ve talked about the importance of having disability insurance in the past, a lot of questions still arise regarding Social Security disability benefits. Everyone seems to have a story, or know someone who’s receiving Social Security disability, so there is always some skepticism as to whether or not outside coverage is needed. Think of it this way–if it is easy to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, why is there an army of attorneys and law firms that specialize in Social Security disability claims and appeals?

Go ahead and do a quick web search for these attorneys. You’ll be amazed at what you find, and how many of those sites look about as good as those cheesy local ambulance chaser commercials you see on your local TV station. All cynicism aside, this is a real benefit that is paid for by tax dollars, so let’s take a look at this benefit in a nutshell.

Eligibility

To be entitled to a disability benefit, a worker must:

  • Be fully insured at the onset of disability.
  • Have worked in Social Security-covered employment for at least five of the previous ten years (20 out of 40 quarters). This applies to disability that begins after age 31. If the disability begins before age 31, you must have worked under Social Security-covered employment for the greater of six quarters, or at least one-half of the quarters between age 21 and the age when disability began.
  • Be under Social Security normal retirement age. After normal retirement age, disability benefits become retirement benefits.
  • Have a physical or mental impairment that (1) disables the worker from the performance of any substantial work, and (2) is expected to either be terminal or last for at least 12 months.

Benefits

A disabled worker who qualifies for Social Security disability benefits is entitled to the full benefit payable until the earliest of the following:

  • The disability ends: benefits are terminated in the second month after the end of disability.
  • The worker dies: benefits are terminated in the month prior to the worker’s death (e.g., worker dies in July; no June benefit is paid).
  • The worker attains normal retirement age.

Spouse’s benefit. Disability benefits for spouses are calculated in the same way as retirement spousal benefits: 50% of the worker’s benefit, reduced if the spouse is under normal retirement age. Benefits are subject to a family maximum.

Child’s benefit. A child who is under age 18, or under 19 if still in high school, is eligible for a benefit amounting to 50% of the disabled worker’s benefit, again subject to the family maximum.

But how much money would you receive even if you do qualify? Well, the Social Security Administration has a few nice calculators that can help you see how pitiful the benefit would be if you were really unable to work. I went ahead and did the first option of using the quick calculator just to see what my benefits would be, and it wasn’t pretty. My disability benefit would be around 38% of my current salary. And this number is high, because my pay has only been at this relative level for just a few years. Prior to that it was significantly lower. So, in using the detailed estimator, I found out my benefit would be about 23% of my salary.

Go ahead, plug in your numbers and see what it comes up with. I don’t know about you, but even in the rare event I was able to qualify for this disability benefit, my life would certainly not be the same while trying to live on a fraction of my pay.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

82 comments
GRH
GRH

My Husband has been receiving SSDI for the last 10 years for $1750- a month- He died last month at the age of 57- I am 56- I counted on his contribution to the rent each month- all our kids are adults- Do I have to wait until I turn 60 for benefits?- we were married for 38 years

beal53925
beal53925

My husband died and our daughter is 3. Ssi told me she doesnt get any beneifts at all. He was too young and didnt work long enough.

DJM
DJM

I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer as of March of this year. I was told I don't qualify because

I haven't worked in the last 3 years. I do have a 15year old with a lot of problems. Has this ss law always been this way? Or is this something new. I feel I should be able to collect what is rightfully mine no matter how many years I have worked, it was my money, now I am told I am not eligible.

Brian Gibson
Brian Gibson

I have been disabled and lost my work in 2007. I have lived off my own resource and now am broke. I never knew of SSDI until recently. I only recieved information on SS starting at age 62. I am now 67 Broke and in debt. I have filed for SSDI and been denied because it is Late in 2013 and although I have worked for many years they are not RECENT enough. They deny my claim and say I do not qualify even though my condiions are not new. I am not looking for back compensation just benifits looking forward. How can they do this. I have paid in over 119k to the SS trust fund but nothing since January 2007 Please tell me if I can sue them? I need help BPG

jodecur
jodecur

My son is receiving social security benefits because his father died. He has just been diagnosed with a developmental disability He will be 18 next year. Will the disability benefits be the same amount as the death benefits?

Kamama
Kamama

My 30-year-old daughter is receiving SSI benefits because of a TBI.  She receives the full amount because she is able to pay her share of food, shelter, etc.  The two of us own a house together.  I am considering letting my other daughter, son-in-law, and grandson move in with us.  It would help them financially, and since my daughter works from home she can help me care for my disabled daughter.  I will not be charging them for rent or utilities, but they will be responsible for their own groceries.  Will this affect my daughter's benefits?  My son-in-law is currently trying to get SSDI, and I think he will eventually get it.  Will the fact that one household member is receiving SSI and another is receiving SSDI affect the benefits of either of them?  Thanks for any help or advice.

jkbyers
jkbyers

my wife is diabled and 44 i am 45 can she recieve benefits from my social security

safety1srt
safety1srt

I`am 59yr/old recieving SSDI ,is it possible to convert it to early reitiremen bennefitt at age 59?And will benefit will at least be  betterr? Thanyou

LBP
LBP

If I am age 62 and have children under age 0f 18 do they qualify for any benefit

laura62
laura62

My husband has been receiving regular monthly payments from SSDisability, all of a sudden we see a large lump sum deposited into his account, but have no idea what it is...does anybody else know, or had that happen.

QuatrinaTruitt
QuatrinaTruitt

my mother is on ssdi and claims she received a letter from them saying if she dies after the age of 55 they (ssdi) will latch on to anything that belongs to her to repay the system (ie, her car, any other belongings of value) is this true? how can this be legal? i have heard of the medi-cal system doing that if you have defrauded them but not medicare.. can anyone help me with this question?

Desperatlyneedhelp
Desperatlyneedhelp

Hi my name is Mario!, and I am 37 years old, and is receiving ssdi due to broken screws and collapsed cages in my spine!, and my Medicare will be kicking in here on dec.1, I receive 837 a month and they are telling me that when my Medicare kicks in that they will be deducting a 100 from my DISSABILITY which will leave me 737 a month, but that is only for part A and part B which does not cover my prescription cost!, so then I was told that I had to apply for a part D plan for my prescription cost!, but that still will only cover my prescriptions for a little more then half a year and then I would be responsible for the remainder of the year for my prscriptions out of my own pocket!, and on top of that that they would be taking an additional 100 out of my DISSABILITY for the part D plan, which by then will only leave me with 637 a month!, now I have a family that I have to take care of as well, and my wife does work but she is only a waitress and doesn't actually bring home what it say's she makes on paper, and I have three children, two that live with me and one that left to go stay with her mother, but I still help out with my daughters expenses, even though she is not residing with me!, my rent alone is 805 a month not counting my other expenses!, i have applied for state welfare assistance but have been denied!!!, I so desperatly need some kind of help or some kind of guidance to help me get to a place where I can afford to take care of my family and my medicare!, I do not know where else to turn!, so please if u can help I would be so grateful Signed desperately need help!!!, Mario LEYVA ( marioleyva97@yahoo.com

bobbywilson315
bobbywilson315

Interesting post Jeremy. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing these social security benefits & eligibility criteria with us. I think it will help those who had suffered from social disability. Jeremy I like the way that you had described the benefits. I had bookmarked this blog & shared with all my friends.

Merri6421
Merri6421

I am 50 as of March this year. I have been disabled since 2003 and receive my disability checks. I was married for 18 years to my ex husband who is also now disabled. Can I get disability though him as well? I get $841 a month and still have his son living with me going to College and working part time. We are living under section 8, food stamps, medicaid for me but son cant get it. etc. and have NOTHING at the end of the month. Need some help here. Thank you ..

 

Sincerely

Merri Carpenter

Soconfused
Soconfused

My mom had me talk to a woman with social security in order to get all my information. I just turned 21 and haven't lived at home since I was 17. When I was 17 was when my mom got sick. My mom is saying since its from her paying into it the benefits belong to her. Is this correct or is it considered my money since they are specifically sending it to me?

helpspouse
helpspouse

I am talking about Medicare disability health insurance

helpspouse
helpspouse

My husband is trying to get on Medicare disability and of course he is not working will I his spouse be covered also under his Medicare disability ??? Doesn't seem to me that anyone considers the spouse !!!!!!!!! I need to know what happens to me I am 56 years old my husband hasn't even raised the question to those who are filling his claim he says that I am stupid that it is him who is disabled not me

sophiesnanny1
sophiesnanny1

if one person collects s.s.i. and the other widows benefits and s.s.d. neither related can they live together without affecting eithers benefits?

Pameladaugherty
Pameladaugherty

I am 61 and drawing disablity from a fall at work. My question is.  When I turn 62 can I draw my husband SS retirement? and can I still draw my disability?  Do I have to sign up for spousal benifitts.

garciafernie
garciafernie

If i receive a SS check for the month of june but I get a letter saying I am no longer entitled to SS benefits starting in the beginning of july. Can I still cash my check ?

ElsieMae
ElsieMae

I am 71 and retired from my regular job at 55. Started drawing my very small $300. Social Security check. It is so little because there were years in which I found it impossible to work and take care of my mentally and physically disabled son.  So, my work resume is very spotty.  I have been taking care of my disabled son for many years now and I am his IHSS worker.  I get about $500 per month as I am doing it part time.  Does working as an IHSS worker entitle me to more Social Security money and or benefits for myself? 

TerriKeeleVejrosta
TerriKeeleVejrosta

My daughter is 7 years old with Rett Syndrome. She is totally and permanetly disabled. We have been receiving SSI and medicaid for her since her diagnosis at 2 years of age. At the time we reported everything and they asked about our 401k. We provided proof of amount along with documentation of eligability to withdraw at 59 and a half. After almost 5 years our county is trying to take away her medicaid because of our 401k. Can they make us withdraw it and spend it? Our daughter is in diapers, is tube fed and requires almost a thousand a month in meds and even more for her formula. If SSI doesnt care why does the county? HELP!Please

dorothyworriax
dorothyworriax

My kids dad was in an auto accident as DEC.23RD,2010. I took him to apply for disability he is just now hearing from SSA.For they want me to fill out forms and send in the forms. sometimes I wish that I would have gotten a lawyer long time ago.Because I have had to work overtime just to pay my bills for my kids.we have 4 together and one which he took on the responsibility as if he was his.I know when he does get his SSI or SS it will only make ends meet. With a 8,7,6,5,4yr old, I'm still got get a part time job to go with my full time job.Because the cost of living only increasing as the years go by. BUT WE'RE NOT GIVING UP,PRAYER CHANGES THINGS.

DizeyB
DizeyB

My late husband was on SSD from age 27 until his death at age 47. The benefits we and our 4 children received were a lifesaver. Although he did not work for long, I thought the benefits were quite fair. Now I am 60, and have worked at a good- paying job for 31years, and before that, I had several years of very minimal income. Since my late spouse's SSD benefits were quite high ( at the time), what should I expect a spousal (widow's) benefit to be? I don't think his "retirement" benefit will be based on his short work history because he was obviously unable to work after getting hurt. Will SS base his "retirement" on an average of what he was making when he became disabled?Sorry/complicated!

safety609
safety609

Have a daughter who was getting SSI and has Diabetes and take seizures. When to a Dr for my daughter eyes that SSI  told us to go to. They said notting wrong with her eyes. One week alater she what to our eye dr and they show us she going blind in one eye and has to get shots and a lazer treament and now SSI told here she lossing her benfits which means no medical insures. What should we do

Biggd4355
Biggd4355

in 2003  I suffered a back injury at work. I was routed to a workmans comp doctor who quickly dismissed my claim. It took 6 months for it to heal. However I became unemployable at that job because of the restrictions my own doctor gave me. I filed for disability and was denied.I decided to keep on trying to work. I held some menial jobs til 2005, where I took a job in a flooring manufacturing company. I sustained a torn meniscus injury and had to have surgery to fix it.In 2006 I took a job in a refrigerated warehouse which resulted in medial epicondylitis and had to have surgery to fix it. I lost my job there because of a work related injury. By then we were up to our necks in this recession. While trying to find work for 5 years I found no one wanted to hire an older worker. I am now disabled and filed for my disability only to find out it isn't there. I paid into social security since I was 18. I guess I can get supplimental security income which is at best $700.00 a month. I feel I'm being punished for trying to do the right thing. If I wait 5 years I can take early ssi, or 10 years for full. I guess I can eat air.

leah houghton
leah houghton

Social Security tells me my son is eligable for auxilary benefits but can not get paid because his dad receives family maximum I do not understand

Bill
Bill

Man,
I have S.S. Disability at 50 and it's poorer then being poor I'll never see anything above the poverty line until My father in law passes away. I mean he does help Us alot out of love but lifes hard when I have 500.00 in meds a month.

Oscar
Oscar

I am 75 yrs old but I only have 31 credits can I qualified for SSI

Jean Johnson
Jean Johnson

my huaband passed away in 2008 and I wikk be eligble in july 2011 to get survivor benefits. Since he passing i have applied for disability benefits. I pplied in June 2010. I have more than enough credits. My question is if I am approved for SSD will I still be eligible in July for my survivor benefit,

Julie
Julie

My Mom & step-dad married on 05-20-2006 and he passed away on 03-07-2010.He had 2 grown kids.My step-dad was receiving his Social Security check every month.Is my Mom entitled to his check ? Because if she is,then she's not getting it.It must be going to his son,who doesn't need it.Can someone please give me advice.Thanks.

Nancy
Nancy

After 6 years my family member has finaly been awarded SS disability. What is the situation regarding assets and medical? He has never owned anything and could not have any assets except a broken down truck. He received some medical care from a private medical service including very expensive MRI's that helped proved his disability. He will be obtaining back SS but nothing that helps his past hardships. What are the new regulations he will be living under? What is his obligation to repay any food stamps, etc?

Linda Landwehr
Linda Landwehr

My husband age 61 is and has been on Social Security Disability for the past 6 years. I am 58 and currently working. If I were to lose my job and become unemployed would I be eligible for part of his disability to help supplement our income? Is there a dollar amount that will make me uneligible and if there is the $ amount? As I can foresee, with my age, the possibility of me getting a full time job with all the benefits is very minimal. Your help in answering these questions is appreciated.
Thank you Linda

Lynn
Lynn

@David Waters :

Yes, you can back file and calculate up how much you need to pay in taxes to qualify for your 20 credits.

-------

For everyone else:

For those who get SSI, yes any money you get will count toward the income limit. So, for example, there was one person who was homeless, but was allowed to sleep in someone's garage. The SS office had to estimate the value of that 'lodging' and count it as income. SSI is for VERY LOW INCOME (or no income) people who are disabled. It is meant to bring you up to a certain level. With SSI you can get Medicaid.

SS Disablity is regular social security for the disabled. Retirement and investment income DO NOT COUNT when calculating this type. WORK INCOME does. So if you are working (or if you have any 'earned income'--such as from a business that is in your name as a sole proprietor), then you will not qualify for SS-D. (They do have a program to get you off of SS-D, but that is another post, as the rules are tricky while they let you 'test work.') Other NON-earned income is allowed, such as pensions and stock dividends. SS-D does not rely on total household income to calculate benefits, unlike SSI.

For those getting SSI (and Medicaid)--yes, you can easily get kicked off of SSI and Medicaid, if the person ever gets a job or wins the lottery or inherits. It is based on the value of any income you receive, as it is for those living in poverty. Once you get off of SSI, they swap you to regular SS Disability (and Medicare). Medicaid lets you get enrolled immediately. Medicare takes 2 years after you are declared disabled before you qualify to receive medical coverage. Medicare only covers 80% of bills while Medicaid covers more of medical bills. Medicare also has other limits (like you have to pay for prescription drug coverage, while with Medicaid it is included).

For spouses who get SS-D, yes you can get part of the spouses benefit as early as age 60 (if you have no small children) OR if you have children under the age of 18. You need to discuss how this works with your SS office.

popeye49
popeye49

@DizeyB  half of his disability check or you can file under your work history which ever is higher.

popeye49
popeye49

@leah houghton  are you disabled

KevinStorey
KevinStorey

sorry no and good luck getting on SSD right know it is broke in 2016 as where SSR is good to 2033.

 

KevinStorey
KevinStorey

No you have to be married 10 years. sorry