Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

What is SSDI? SSDI is a commonly used acronym for Social Security Disability Insurance, a program that offers monthly Social Security Disability payments to people under age 65 who have qualifying disabilities and sufficient work credits.

What are the Qualifications?

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits from SSDI, you must have held qualifying employment for a certain period of time. Qualifying employment means employment in which you paid into the Social Security System. The Social Security Administration awards up to four work credits each year, based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. The amount of credit needed changes from year to year, so it is a good idea to find out what the credit amount is before you apply to make sure you have enough. These credits depend not only on the amount of money you earn, but also on your age when you become disabled. You can find much of the information you need on your Social Security Statement, available on the SSA’s website.

In addition to work credits, you must also be able to prove that you suffer from a totally disabling condition that prevents you from working. Social Security defines a disabling condition as one that prevents you doing the work you did before you became disabled, prevents you from doing other work despite your disability, and has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or to end in your death. SSDI does not provide any benefits for partial or short-term disability.

Tests You Need

Means Test - to meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability, you must first either be totally unable to work, or be working but unable to earn more than $1,070 a month. This income limit changes periodically, so before you apply for Social Security disability benefits, be sure to find out what the income limit is in the year you intend to apply.

Severity Test - the next test relates to the severity of your disability. Regardless of your diagnosis, SSA will pay you Social Security disability benefits under SSDI only if your condition interferes with basic work related activities to the extent that you are precluded from making a living.

Substantiating Medical Records - if you meet the income test and the severity tests, the SSA will ask you to provide medical documentation that shows you meet the criteria for your disabling condition as found in the publication entitled Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, also known as the Blue Book. The SSA also has a list of 50 medical conditions that automatically qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under SSDI called compassionate allowances.

Work Test - the SSA will then determine if you can do work that you did previously. If not, it will determine whether you can do another type of work, taking into consideration your education, your work experience, and your age.

The aforementioned tests are the basic hurdles you must pass to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Other rules apply if you are blind, widowed, are applying on behalf of a child, or if you are a member of the armed services.

Auxiliary Benefits

If you apply for SSDI benefits and win your claim, in some instances, your family members such as your spouse or children may be able to receive benefits on behalf of your SSDI. How much your family members receive depend on how much taxes you have paid into Social Security while you were still working.

When you are applying for SSDI benefits, you will need to add your spouse and/or children to your initial claim. In order for your spouse to qualify, he or she needs to be under the age of 62 and the co-caregiver of your children with you, only if your children are under the age of 16. If you are and your spouse get divorced, your spouse can still be able to qualify for auxiliary benefits under your SSDI if you were married for at least 10 years.

Your children may be able to qualify for auxiliary benefits if they are under the age of 18, not married and in school.

Next Steps to Take

If you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits under SSDI, they are paid until such time as you are able to resume work or until you reach retirement age, at which point disability benefits will automatically convert to normal Social Security Retirement benefits.

While the rules may seem straight forward at first blush, they tend to be complicated, detailed, and difficult to understand. The time between an initial application and a final ruling can literally be years. In most cases, it is highly advisable to seek the assistance of a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to help you with the application and appeals processes.

Additional Resources

Find Out If I Qualify for Benefits!