What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Kim Pinnelli

by Kim Pinnelli
Senior Contributing Writer

Updated October 5, 2020
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What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

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A disability that interferes with your ability to work can make it hard to make it financially. You can buy disability insurance, but it typically comes at a high cost that many can't afford. Social Security Disability Insurance bridges the gap for people who can't afford disability insurance.

How Social Security Disability Insurance Works

If you have a long enough work history, you may be eligible for monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration should you become disabled. The Social Security Administration pays SSDI benefits as long as you are unable to work due to disability. If you reach retirement age before returning to work, your benefits will become retirement benefits instead of disability.

Keep in mind that the Social Security Administration will determine whether or not you are unable to work. They will consider your current occupation and other occupations based on your education and work history.

Who Qualifies For The Program

It can be more challenging to qualify for these benefits than those offered by private insurance. Only about 33% of applicants get approved. Basic qualifications include:

  • Proof of your disability and that it will continue for at least 12 months
  • A history of working for a sufficient number of years which earned enough credits

You earn 'work credits' based on your annual earnings from working for someone or self-employment. Today, workers earn one credit for every $1,360 in income and may earn up to 4 credits per year. To obtain full benefits, you generally need 40 credits and have earned 20 of them within the last ten years to qualify for disability insurance. There may be an exception for younger workers on a case-by-case basis.

In some cases, a disabled widow or widower may also be eligible for their deceased spouse's benefits. Disabled children may also qualify for benefits until they are 18 years old.

How Much Can You Receive

The amount of SSDI you receive is based on your lifetime earnings before the disability. Your level of disability or current income will not be factored in. Instead, they look at the average of your annual lifetime income and adjust for inflation. On average, recipients receive between $800 and $1,800 per month. But, if you have any other income coming in, such as state disability payments or worker's compensation payments, it will decrease the amount of social security disability benefits you receive.

How to Apply

Once you become disabled, you should apply for benefits right away. The Social Security Administration offers three application options:

  • Online
  • By phone 1-800-772-1213
  • Visit your local Social Security Office

When you apply, make sure you have all pertinent information regarding your medical condition, including medical records, doctor's contact information, lab results, names and dosages of medication, and proof of your most recent employment. If you intend to claim family members too, you must provide all of their identifying information as well.

Social security disability insurance helps cover the cost of some of your expenses while you are unable to work. It does take a while to get through the process, so make sure you apply immediately to speed the process along.