You must be familiar with and follow the guidelines when submitting your Social Security Disability application online, on the phone, or in-person. The Social Security Disability application form must be completed along with all requirements and accompanying paperwork.
The Social Security disability insurance program (SSDI, SSD, to Title II) is one of two federal programs the Social Security Administration (SSA) has created that provides benefits for disabled individuals. The other program is the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. It can be easy to mistake SSDI and SSI as both provide similar benefits but have very different qualifying criteria.
SSI is not Social Security. Although the SSA runs and has a similar name to SSI, the SSA does not fund the SSI program. SSDI benefits are based on disability and work credit while SSI was created specifically for disabled, low-income people who do not qualify for SSDI benefits. However, people who are eligible to apply for SSDI may also be eligible for SSI.
How to Qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI)
Eligibility for SSDI is contingent on disability and the inability to work. To apply for social security disability, you must be able to demonstrate that you have a qualifying disability that prevents you from being able to complete substantial work.
The disability must be a physical and/or mental condition that lasts for at least 12 months, is expected to last for at least 12 months, or is expected to result in death. Further, the disability must prevent the performance of any substantial work, also referred to as substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2021, the SSA defines “substantial work” as earnings of $1,310 per month (up from $1,260 in 2020). Any income below this cap still allows you to apply for SSDI.
Applying for Social Security disability also requires you to be “insured” under Title II of the Social Security Act. This essentially means you must have worked long enough, recently enough, and contributed to the Social Security trust fund by paying tax on your earnings. While you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn Social Security “work credits.” Accumulating enough work credits, with some of them being earned recently enough, is one criterion for being able to receive Social Security disability payments.
The amount of income required to earn a credit changes from year to year. In 2020, you must have made $1,410 to earn one work credit, however, the maximum number of work credits you can earn is four credits per year. The number of work credits needed to qualify for SSDI varies depending on your age when you stopped working due to your disability, and so the number of years you are required to have worked also varies.
In general, you need 40 work credits and must be earning at least $780 per month to qualify for SSDI benefits.
Finally, you must be under the age of 65 to receive SSDI. If you do qualify for SSDI, you will automatically qualify for Medicare after receiving SSDI benefits for two years, even if you are younger than the ordinary qualifying age for Medicare.
What are SSDI Benefits?
SSDI benefits are unique to each person and are based upon your average lifetime earnings, with a maximum benefit amount that is adjusted each year. In 2020, the cap was $3,011; for 2021, the cap is $3,148.
The number of work credits earned will not impact the Social Security disability benefits you can receive—work credits are only a factor in your eligibility to qualify for SSDI. If you are eligible for SSDI, your benefits will also not take into account the severity of your disability or how much income you currently have. The only exception to this is if the combination SSDI and any other disability benefit or income you receive exceeds 80% of what SSA considers your average current earnings based on their formulas.
Most SSDI recipients receive between $800 and $1,800 per month—the average for 2021 is $1,277.
How to File for Social Security Disability
You can file for Social Security Disability in three different ways:
- Apply online
- Apply over the phone
- Apply in person at your local Social Security office. There are Social Security offices all over the U.S.; you can find your local office here. For those outside the U.S., you can contact the Federal Benefits Unit that provides service to your country of residence.
Your local SSA field office will check if you meet all non-medical eligibility requirements. Then, the local SSA field office will send your application to your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS). There, a disability claims examiner will make the medical determination as to whether you qualify for disability benefits.
If your benefits are denied, you can request that the DDS reconsider your claim. If the DDS denies you again, you can then request an appeal hearing. In the appeal hearing, you will go in front of an administrative law judge in SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
What Do I Need To Apply for Social Security Disability?
There are many requirements of information about yourself, your medical condition, and your required work when you apply for SSDI. The SSA website has a full checklist that helps organize all the information you’ll need before you apply, but here is an overview:
- Social Security Number
- Date/place of birth
- Information about your spouse (current and any former spouses)
- Information about your minor children
- Your bank information
Medical Condition Information
- Someone familiar with your medical conditions and can assist you with your application
- Information regarding your medical illnesses, injuries, or conditions:
- Information about all doctors, hospitals, and clinics you’ve been to
- Medicines and prescriptions and attestations from those who prescribed them
- Medical tests you’ve had and attestations from those who sent you for the tests and conducted the tests
- Income from this year and last year
- Name of employer(s) for this year and last year
- Addresses of employer(s) for this year and last year
- Your Social Security Statement
- U.S. military service before 1968
- List of the jobs or employment (up to 5) in the last 15 years before the disability
- Dates associated with those jobs
- Information about any other benefits (temporary or permanent) you filed, or intend to file for
Social Security Disability Application Process
SSDI applications generally take 3-5 months to process, and that is without accounting for further delays experienced if your SSDI application is rejected for any reason and you decide to do it through the multi-step appeals process.
The national average for SSDI approval rate from the initial application in 2020 was 37%.
After the initial application, there is also a reconsideration and an appeals process to reexamine denied claims.
If your initial SSDI application is rejected, you can request a reconsideration within 60 days from the date of denial. Your claim will go to the offices that reviewed your initial application, but a different analyst will conduct a second review.
The national average for SSDI approval rate during reconsideration review in 2020 was 13%.
If your claim is denied after reconsideration, you have another 60 days to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You will appear before the judge, who will decide whether or not you meet the disability rules and regulations. The judge will hear your testimony, and may also hear additional testimony from medical experts.
The national average for SSDI approval rate during Administrative Law Judge hearings in 2020 was 45%.