Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab
Read this in: Spanish / Español


About Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that provides financial assistance in cash payments to individuals who have become disabled and are unable to work. SSDI benefits are based on the amount of work credits and work history that an individual has, as well as the severity of the disability. Eligible family members may also get benefits. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and it is funded by Social Security taxes. 

What You Need To Know

Under the law, your payments can’t begin until you’ve been disabled for at least five full months. Payments usually start with your sixth month of disability. However, there is no waiting period if your disability results from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and you are approved for Social Security disability benefits on or after July 23, 2020.

When we tell you that you’ll be receiving disability benefit payments, the notice explains how much your disability benefit will be and when your payments start.

SSDI benefits are not permanent and can be terminated if your medical condition improves if you return to work, or if you reach full retirement age. It's important to understand the circumstances under which your benefits may be terminated and to plan accordingly.

Generally, your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you can't work. SSA will review your case periodically to make sure you still have a qualifying disability. 

Learn more about managing your SSDI benefits by visiting this resource here

When you start receiving disability benefits, certain members of your family may qualify for benefits based on your work, including your:

  • Your spouse, if they are age 62 or older.

  • Your spouse at any age, if they are caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or who has a disability 

  • Your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be younger than age 18 (or younger than 19 if still in high school).

  • Your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if they have a disability that started before age 22. The child’s disability must also meet the definition of disability for adults.

Each family member may be eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 50% of your disability amount. 

The total varies, depending on your benefit amount and the number of qualifying family members on your record. Generally, the total amount you and your family can receive is about 150 to 180 percent of your disability benefit.

In some situations, a divorced spouse may qualify for benefits based on your earnings. They must have been married to you for at least 10 years, are not currently married, and are at least age 62. The money paid to a divorced spouse doesn’t reduce your benefit or any benefits due to your current spouse or children.

How To Apply

How To Apply

This information covers the various steps that you may need to take to apply for and get benefits for social security disability insurance (SSDI). 

Steps To Applying For Social Security Disability (SSDI) Benefits

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must: 

  • Have worked in jobs covered by Social Security - worked long enough - recently enough - under Social Security 
  • Have a medical condition that meets Social Security's strict definition of disability

Monthly cash benefits get paid to people who are unable to work for a year or more because of a disability. 

Benefits usually continue until you can work again on a regular basis. There are also several rules, called work incentives, that provide continued benefits and health coverage to make the transition back to work.

If you are getting SSDI benefits when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same. 

Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to 4 credits each year. The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when your disability begins. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year your disability begins. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

To determine if you are eligible for SSDI you can visit this resource here

Gather the information and documents you need to apply and complete the application. Processing an application can take an average of three to six months. Some documents that can help you complete and process your application include: 

  • Your Social Security number.

  • Your date and place of birth.

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of the doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, and dates of your visits.

  • Names and dosages of all the medicine you take.

  • Medical records from your doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics, and caseworkers that you already have in your possession.

  • Laboratory and test results.

  • A summary of where you worked and the kind of work you did.

  • A copy of your most recent W-2 Form (Wage and Tax Statement) or, if you’re self-employed, your federal tax returns for the past year.

In addition to the application for disability benefits, you’ll also need to fill out other forms. One form collects information about your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. Other forms give doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare professionals who have treated you, permission to send SSA information about your medical condition.

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you develop a disability. Follow these easy steps to apply online for disability:

  • To start your application, go to the Apply for Benefits page, and read and agree to the Terms of Service. Click “Next.”
  • On that page, review the “Getting Ready” section to make sure you have the information you need to apply.
  • Select “Start A New Application.”
  • SSA will ask a few questions about who is filling out the application.
  • You will then sign in to your personal "my Social Security account", or you will be prompted to create one.
  • Complete the application.

You can apply for SSDI benefits by visiting this resource here

The processing time for disability applications varies depending on the nature of the disability, necessary medical evidence or examinations, and applicable quality reviews. Once SSA gets your application, they will review it and contact you if they have any questions. SSA may request additional documents from you before they can proceed. 

When the state agency makes a determination on your case, you'll receive a letter in the mail with the decision. It generally takes three to six months for an initial decision. If you included information about other family members when you applied, SSA will let you know if they may be able to get benefits on your record. 

You can always check the status of your application online using your personal My Social Security account

Other Issues To Consider

Other Issues To Consider

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), there are several other issues you should consider in addition to meeting the eligibility criteria for SSDI benefits. 

Other Issues To Consider Related To Getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Applicants have the right to appeal an SSDI decision and request a hearing before an administrative law judge. If you were recently denied Social Security benefits for medical or non-medical reasons, you may request an appeal. Your request must be in writing and received within 60 days of the date you receive the letter containing our decision.

Learn more about how to appeal a denial by visiting this resource here

SSDI benefits are subject to overpayments if you get more money than you are entitled to. If you are notified of an overpayment, you will need to repay the excess amount. 

Learn more about how to deal with an SSDI overpayment by visiting this resource here

After 2 years of obtaining disability benefits, a person with SSDI will automatically qualify for Medicare. You will get information about Medicare several months before your coverage starts. 

If you have permanent kidney failure requiring regular dialysis or a transplant or you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), you may qualify for Medicare almost immediately.

Some people who get SSDI benefits have to pay taxes on their benefits. 

You’ll be affected only if you have substantial income in addition to your Social Security benefits.

  • If you file a federal individual income tax return and your income is more than $25,000, you have to pay taxes.

  • If you file a joint return, you may have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a combined income that is more than $32,000.

  • If you’re married and file a separate return, you’ll probably pay taxes on your benefits.

If you’re receiving Social Security disability benefits, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

If you also receive a reduced widow(er)’s benefit, be sure to contact Social Security when you reach full retirement age, so that SSA can make any necessary adjustments to your benefits.

If you have limited income and resources, you may be able to get SSI. SSI is a federal program that provides monthly payments to people aged 65 or older and to people who are blind or disabled. If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other benefits, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Last Review and Update: Apr 10, 2023
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