Social Security Benefits

Authored By: Social Security Administration (SSA)


What Is Social Security?

Social Security is an insurance program funded by payroll taxes paid by workers and employers. The program provides benefits to retired workers, the unemployed, and disabled workers. It also provides survivor benefits to families of deceased workers. 

The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays financial benefits to individuals who are not able to work due to a disability. To be eligible for SSDI, individuals must have earned enough credits through their employment and/or self-employment in order to qualify. The amount of benefits that an individual gets is based on a formula that takes into account their average lifetime earnings. 

Supplemental Security Income pays benefits as a basic monthly income to seniors, blind, and disabled individuals who have limited income and resources. SSI is available to both U.S. citizens and non-citizens who meet the eligibility criteria. The amount of money a person gets is based on their financial need and other factors. 

SSI is not the same as SSDI. SSDI is a separate program that provides monthly benefits to individuals who have worked and paid taxes into the Social Security Program. 

Both SSI and SSDI use the same definition of disability. Learn more about Social Security's definition of disability. Sometimes the SSA will need updated information about your condition. You may receive a Disability Update Report (SSA-455).  This form can now be completed online.

Use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to find out which programs may be able to pay you benefits.

Who Is Eligible?

Social Security pays retirement benefits to workers who have reached their full retirement age and have paid enough into the system to be insured. The benefits are designed to provide financial security and stability to retired workers. When you work you pay taxes into Social Security. The tax money is used to pay benefits to people who are already retired. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. Your benefit payment is based on how much you earned during your working career. You can get Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62 or at your full retirement age of 67. If you retire early your benefits may get reduced for your lifetime. This means that your earnings probably mean a lower Social Security benefit when you retire. 

In certain situations, you may also qualify to receive benefits under the record of your spouse, parent, grandparent, or your child. There are several rules surrounding these benefits; you should contact Social Security to see if you are eligible and determine if you would benefit more through one of these versus benefits on your work record.

Sometimes health problems or other situations arise where you may retire early. If you can't work because of health problems you may consider applying for Social Security disability benefits. If you're getting Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, then SSA converts these benefits to retirement benefits. 

For more information visit An Overview Of Retirement Benefits

Social Security pays survivor’s benefits to certain dependents of deceased workers who paid into Social Security. These benefits provide financial support to help survivors of the deceased maintain their standard of living and financial security.The deceased person must have worked long enough in jobs insured under Social Security to qualify for benefits. If you are a survivor of a deceased worker, you are eligible to receive benefits if the worker was insured for benefits at the time of his or her death and you are:

  1. A deceased worker’s spouse, age 60 or older, or between the ages of 50 and 60 and disabled
  2. A deceased worker’s spouse taking care of the deceased worker’s child, and the child is under 16 or disabled
  3. An unmarried child of a deceased worker who is under the age of 18 (19, if a full-time student in elementary or secondary school)
  4. A child with a disability of a deceased worker and the disability began before the age of 22
  5. A grandchild of a deceased worker who was financially dependent on the worker
  6. A deceased worker’s parent who is now age 62 or older and who was financially dependent on the worker.

Social Security pays disability benefits to workers with disabilities that prevent them from working above a certain threshold called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). 

There are several types of disability benefits; disability benefits can be paid based on the individual’s own work record called Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The SSDI program pays benefits to you and certain family members if you are “insured.” This means that you worked long enough – and recently enough - and paid Social Security taxes on your earnings. Benefits paid from a spouse’s work record are called Disabled Widow Benefits (DWB), and benefits paid from a parent’s work record are called Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB, also known as Disabled Adult Child benefits).

There is one other type of disability benefit: a separate program with different rules called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Certain elderly individuals without disabilities with low-incomes and little resources may also be eligible for SSI.

Social security benefits for children include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Medicare. SSI is a needs-based cash payment that provides financial assistance to disabled children under the age of 18 whose family income and resources are below a certain level.

SSDI provides benefits to children whose parent or parents have worked long enough to qualify and are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Retirement benefits. Medicare provides health insurance to qualified children with disabilities. Someone who is 18 years or older with a disability that began before the age of 22 and who has a parent who is a deceased, disabled or retired worker may be eligible for Social Security benefits on the earnings record of this parent. If a child with a disability was receiving benefits on the work record of a deceased, disabled or retired worker as a minor child, s/he may be eligible to continue to receive benefits. If the child received SSI until getting this Social Security benefit then their Medicaid eligibility should usually continue.


To Apply For Social Security Benefits

Determine if you are eligible for Social Security benefits and gather your documents. You will need to provide proof of your age, U.S. citizenship or legal residency, and work history. 

You can apply for Social Security benefits online at You can also call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to apply over the phone. You can also visit a local Social Security office to apply for benefits in person. 

Wait for a decision. It can take up to three months to process your application. During this time, the Social Security Administration will review your application and contact you if they need additional information. 

Appealing Denials, Terminations, Or Overpayments

Appealing Social Security Denials, Terminations, Or Overpayments

You can appeal any decision Social Security makes, such as initial application denials, termination of the benefits you have been receiving, or overpayments. There are several appeals levels, and you should appeal before the date on the notice from Social Security. In some cases, if you appeal within 10 days, your benefits could continue while the appeal is pending.

You are allowed to have someone else represent you, such as an attorney or advocate.

If your application has recently been denied, the Internet Appeal is a starting point to request a review of our decision about your eligibility for disability benefits.

Learn more about how you can appeal an application decision. 

If your application is denied for:

  • Medical reasons, you can complete and submit the required Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report online. The disability report asks you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests or doctor visits since SSA made their decision.
  • Non-medical reasons, you should contact your local Social Security Office to request the review. You also may call the toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to request an appeal. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.
Last Review and Update: Dec 06, 2022
Back to top