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social security disability

Disabled and need help? Look to Social Security disability. The monthly payments available to the disabled are provided through two Social Security Administration programs. The approval process is fairly complicated, though, and you must meet relatively strict standards to qualify. If you think that Social Security disability is something you may need, either now or in the future, make sure you know exactly what to expect and what requirements you’ll need to meet.

What Is Social Security Disability?

Social Security disability benefits are available to people who become disabled before reaching full retirement age. The Social Security Administration, an independent government agency, offers Social Security disability through two different programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The two programs can overlap but also have key differences.

SSDI is a program for those who become sick or injured and cannot work. Unlike with other insurance programs, you don’t pay a premium. You pay a Social Security tax with each paycheck and that money funds the program. You can stay on SSDI for as long as you are disabled, until you reach retirement age and start to claim regular retirement benefits. Past income determines the level of benefits.

SSI, meanwhile, is for people who have a disability (or are blind) and earn a limited income. Unlike SSDI, income from SSI is not based on past work history. Rather, recipients get a set amount. This program is funded by general tax dollars, not Social Security taxes. Recipients must have a low income and cannot have many valuable assets. People over the age of 65 can also qualify for SSI.

Social Security Disability Insurance Eligibility

social security disability

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, you must have enough Social Security work credits. The amount of time you’ve worked and your salary determine how many credits you have. Your age determines the number of credits you need. Generally, you need fewer credits the younger you are.

Program beneficiaries must also meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of a disability. This is established through a series of questions:

  1. Are you working? Beneficiaries cannot work and earn more than $1,220 per month.
  2. Is your condition severe? According to the Social Security Administration, this means that your condition must limit whether you are able to do work, including “lifting, standing, sitting, walking and remembering” for at least 12 months. If your condition is not severe, the Social Security Administration does not consider you disabled.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The Social Security Administration has a list of disabling conditions. If your condition is not on the list, the administration will make a decision about whether or not it is severe.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? The condition must make it impossible for you to continue doing the work you did before you became disabled.
  5. Can you do other work? The Social Security Administration considers age, work history and education when making this determination.

Your work and income history determines your monthly benefit amount. The maximum benefit for 2019 is $2,861 per month, but the average is around $1,234.

Supplemental Security Income Eligibility

Supplemental Security Income is for those who have a disabling condition and a low income. Unlike SSDI, you can work a job with a regular wage and still earn SSI, but your income must fall below a certain threshold. Those over the age of 65 with limited income and resources may also qualify, as can disabled children.

The monthly income limits are as follows for 2019:

  • $$1,627 for an individual whose income comes from wages
  • $791 for someone whose income does not come from wages
  • $2,399 for a couple whose income comes from wages
  • $1,177 for a couple whose income does not come from wages

The Social Security Administration also considers resources, which it defines as “something that you own and can turn into cash,” like property, stocks, bonds and bank accounts. It does not count the house in which you live or one of your vehicles used for transportation. The limit for resources is $2,000 for an individual, $3,000 for a married couple, $4,000 for a child with one parent in the house and $5,000 for a child with two parents in the house.

The benefit amount is based on the federal benefit rate, which is $771 for individuals and $1,157 for couples in 2019. That is the maximum monthly payment you’ll receive, though some exclusions may apply that may lower your benefit payment.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability

social security disability

The Social Security Administration handles applications for both programs. You can complete the application online, or you can call 1-800-722-1212. Applicants can also go to a local Social Security office and apply in person.

However you apply, you’ll need to provide some personal information. This includes:

  • Social Security number and proof of age
  • Names and addresses of doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Medication information, including dosages
  • Lab and test results
  • Summary of work history
  • W-2 forms or federal tax return
  • Proof of marriage and Social Security numbers for family members

The Bottom Line

The Social Security Administration offers Social Security disability through two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Social Income. Disabled individuals who are below retirement age and cannot work are eligible for SSDI. SSI is for both adults and children, including people over the age of 65. Both Social Security disability programs have high approval standards. Potential recipients can apply online, over the phone or at a Social Security office.

Retirement Tips

  • A financial advisor can help get your savings on track for retirement or in case something were to happen to you. Find one with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and we pair you with up to three advisors in your area, free of disclosures and fully vetted. You talk to each advisor, ask questions and decide how to proceed.
  • Social Security payments in retirement also depend on your work and income history. See what you stand to earn with our Social Security calculator.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/zimmytws, ©iStock.com/Bill Oxford, ©iStock.com/PeopleImage

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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