How Does the Social Security Disability Benefit Process Work?

9.11.19Social Security disability benefits are based on average lifetime earnings. How severe the disability is, or what the household income is, has nothing to do with the amount of money that will be paid.

If you have your annual Social Security statement, you can see what you’ll probably get in the Estimated Benefits section. However, this is an estimate and not a final number. The total amount a disabled worker and his or her family can receive is roughly 150% to 180% of the disabled worker's benefit. Eligible family members can include a spouse, divorced spouse, children, a disabled child and/or an adult child disabled prior to age 22.

The estimated Social Security disability benefit amount for a disabled worker receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in January 2019 is $1,234 per month. However, a beneficiary can receive either less than this or up to $2,861, according the article “What are the maximum Social Security disability benefits?” from Investopedia.

The Social Security Administration says that to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have worked a certain amount of time in jobs covered by Social Security. You usually must have 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you became disabled. In addition, you must also have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability. There are some conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) says are so severe, they automatically render an applicant disabled. Many conditions require careful screening, including answering the following questions:

  1. Are you currently working? If you’re working, and your earnings average more than $1,220 (in 2019), you won’t be considered disabled. If you’re not working, or your income falls below Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limits, you go to question two.
  2. Is your condition "severe"? If the SSA decides that your condition doesn’t interfere with basic work-related activities, you won’t be considered disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, you move on to question three.
  3. Is your condition included in the list of disabling conditions? The SSA has a list of disabling medical conditions that automatically qualify you as disabled. If your condition isn’t one of these, the SSA will determine if it’s severe enough to qualify. If so, you’ll be considered disabled, and your application will be approved. If not, you move on to the next question.
  4. Can you do the work you previously did? If your condition doesn’t interfere with your ability to do the work you used to do, you won’t be considered disabled. If it does, you go to question five.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? If you can’t do the work you did previously, the SSA will see if you can do some other type of work. If the SSA says you can adjust to other suitable work—considering your condition, age, education, previous work experience and other factors—you won’t be considered disabled, and your claim will be denied. If you can’t adjust, your claim will be approved.

These qualifying conditions also must be anticipated to last at least one year or result in death.

A few pointers: as soon as you believe that you are disabled, you should apply for Social Security disability. There is a mandatory waiting period of time months after your disability begins before you can receive benefits. There is no upside to waiting. The benefits also may or may not be taxable, depending upon your income. Speak with the people at the local Social Security office or call the main number. Learn all that you can to protect yourself and your family.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “What are the maximum Social Security disability benefits?”

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