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Understanding Social Security Disability (SSDI)

There are two types of Social Security benefits to apply for, depending on certain factors. This includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and disability insurance. While the latter program benefits low-income individuals who qualify through age or disability, the other federal program is available to those who can no longer work due to the development of a permanent or life-threatening medical condition. To receive benefits under this particular program, applicants must meet a few additional eligibility requirements.

Known formally as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), this assistance program offers financial aid to workers who fulfill the requirements for duration of work and disability. Specific work duration requirements vary depending on the age at which an applicant became disabled. However, most beneficiaries need at least a year and a half of employment in order to qualify. Additional information about this federal program is available below.

What are Social Security Disability benefits?

SSDI benefits help to support those who worked and paid Social Security taxes, but can no longer earn a living due to the development of a severe disability or medical condition. For instance, workers may qualify for these benefits if they develop a condition that limits their ability sit, stand, walk or perform other daily activities.

Under this program, certain family members of qualifying workers may also receive disability benefits. Family members who qualify for Social Security benefits may include but are not limited to:

  • A spouse who is at least 62 years of age.
  • A spouse who cares for the qualifying worker’s disabled child.
  • A spouse who cares for the qualifying worker’s minor child, who is younger than 16 years of age.
  • An unmarried child who is younger than 18 years of age.
  • An unmarried child who is 19 years of age and attending high school.
  • An unmarried child who is older than 18 years of age, but holds a qualifying disability that developed prior to turning 22 years of age.

Note: A divorced spouse may qualify for Social Security programs as well, as long as he or she was married to the working individual for at least 10 years. Additionally, the spouse must be at least 62 years of age and unmarried in order to receive these benefits.

What is the maximum Social Security Disability benefit amount?

If workers meet Social Security Disability qualifications, they will receive a letter of approval from the Social Security Administration (SSA). After receiving this letter of approval, their first payment will arrive six months from the date on which their disability began. While the benefit amount will vary depending on the worker’s average lifetime earnings, the average monthly payment is around $1,234.

The amount of family members covered under your SSDI eligibility also plays a factor in the amount your household can receive. In addition to your monthly payment, each member may qualify for 50 percent or less of your own benefit amount. However, a household typically receives a maximum payment between 150 and 180 percent of your established benefit.

Social Security Disability Qualifications

Applicants must meet strict disability requirements in order to receive benefits under this program. To meet the SSA’s definition of “disability”, all three of the following statements must be true:

  • The applicant can no longer perform the same type of work
  • The claimant holds a medical condition that prevents him or her from adjusting to a new type of work
  • The medical condition is life-threatening or expected to last at least one year

An applicant may still meet SSDI disability qualifications while continuing to work, but his or her average earnings cannot exceed $1,220 per month. If his or her monthly salary exceeds this amount, the worker does not meet the SSA’s definition of “disability” and thus does not qualify for benefits under this program.

Learn About Work-Related Social Security Disability Requirements

As part of these SSDI qualifications, applicants must also pass a recent work and duration of work test. The SSA uses these two tests to determine whether individuals have worked enough in order to qualify for benefits. However, certain blind workers are exempt from passing the recent work test.

As part of the recent work test for SSDI eligibility, applicants must have enough recent work on their Social Security record, depending on the age at which their disability began. For instance, if their disability began before they turned 24 years of age, applicants typically need at least a year and a half of work experience during a recent three-year period. If their disability began after they turned 31 years of age, they typically need at least five years of work experience out of a recent 10-year period.

Social Security Disability eligibility requirements also state that applicants must pass a duration of work test. Refer to the table below to learn more about these duration of work requirements.

Age at Which Disability Began Minimum Years of Work Needed
Younger than 28 years 1.5 years
30 years 2 years
38 years 4 years
44 years 5.5 years
48 years 6.5 years
52 years 7.5 years
56 years 8.5 years
60 years 9.5 years


Note: To find out if you may qualify for benefits under this or one of the other Social Security programs, use the SSA’s online Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST).

How to Complete the Social Security Disability Application

To apply for disability benefits, claimants can complete the application process online, or schedule an appointment at a local Social Security office. Since the SSDI waiting period is generally three to five months, claimants must apply as soon as they acquire a severe disability or life-threatening medical condition. The following information is required to submit an application:

  • A Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Date and place of birth
  • Banking information
  • The names, SSNs and birth dates of the spouse and minor children
  • Detailed information about the disability or medical condition
  • Work and employment information
  • Earnings from the current and previous year

As proof of SSDI eligibility, applicants may need to provide the SSA with evidence of their birth and U.S. citizenship status. Other eligibility documents may include W-2 forms, medical evidence or pay stubs.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits Online

Claimants may apply for disability insurance online if they are at least 18 years of age and not currently receiving other benefits under their Social Security record. After completing the online application, claimants may mail their supporting documents to the SSA if needed, or submit them in person at a local Social Security office. If mailing these documents, applicants must include their SSN on a separate sheet of paper.

How to Apply for SSDI Benefits in Person

To apply for benefits in person at a local office, claimants must schedule an appointment by contacting the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. Applicants who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may schedule an appointment by calling 1-800-325-0778. In some situations, applicants may be able to file their claim by telephone.