Learn How to Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance With Our Guide

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The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is one of the largest federal assistance programs for Americans with disabilities. It works by providing cash assistance to eligible candidates in order to help them cover basic costs. The SSDI program provides benefits to eligible candidates and their families, and though it is primarily intended for adults, some children do qualify.

Like many Social Security programs, there is a work requirement that all candidates must fulfill. Applicants who were not part of the workforce long enough to qualify for Social Security, however, may still be able to apply if a spouse has worked long enough to satisfy the credit requirements. The ages of the applicant and their spouse determine how many years the beneficiary must have worked to collect Social Security. Thus, while an applicant who is 46 years of age may be required to have worked 6 years to qualify, an applicant who is 24 years of age must only have worked 18 months.

Learn About Social Security Disability Benefits

The maximum Social Security disability benefit in 2023 is $3,627.

The amount of cash benefits is determined by the beneficiary’s average lifetime earnings. Thus, an applicant who worked longer and paid more into the Social Security system is more likely to receive maximum benefits than a candidate who had limited earnings and work experience. However, this number may also be influenced by the beneficiary’s current or former spouse.

SSDI benefits are also available to certain family members of a qualified candidate. For example, a qualified candidate’s spouse may be eligible to receive Social Security disability if the spouse is older than 62 years of age. Other family members who may be eligible to receive benefits include:

  • Spouses of the qualified candidate who are younger than 62 years of age but caring for a child who is younger than 16 years of age or disabled.
  • The beneficiary’s unmarried child, including stepchildren, adopted children and grandchildren. The child must be 18 years of age or younger.
  • The beneficiary’s unmarried child who is older than 18 years of age but has a disability that started before 22 years of age.

What are the Social Security Disability requirements?

The first requirement for Social Security disability eligibility is that applicants must be disabled based on the Social Security Administration’s definition of the word. To qualify for SSDI, the candidate must be unable to work due to their disability, have a condition that is expected to last for 12 months or more or a condition that is expected to be terminal.

The second SSDI eligibility requirement is that the applicant must have worked long enough and contributed enough in taxes to be eligible for Social Security benefits. Typically, this means having worked at least 10 years in total, and SSDI requirements also demand that at least 5 of the last 10 years were spent working. However, there are exceptions for younger workers. Additionally, applicants to SSDI older than 65 years of age will be granted retirement benefits instead of disability benefits.

Beneficiaries who do not qualify based on their own work record may still be able to qualify based on a spouse’s, current or divorced. The credit exceptions for younger workers are:

  • Younger than 24 years of age: Requirements demand at least one and a half years of work in the last three years before the disability.
  • Between 24 and 31 years of age: Must have worked at least half the number of years between turning 21 and the onset of the disability. Therefore, a 26-year-old must have worked two-and-a-half years in total while a 29-year-old must have worked 4 years.
  • Between 31 and 42 years of age: 5 years of work are required for applicants between the ages of 31 and 42 years.

Past 42 years of age, the Social Security disability qualifications rise consistently each year. One additional credit, or 1/4 of a working year, is required for each additional year of age. For example, a 46-year-old must have worked a total of 6 years to qualify for SSDI. These numbers are the same for a spouse to be eligible for disability survivor benefits.

Candidates who satisfy the work and disability requirements will be asked the following five questions to help determine eligibility. The questions determine financial qualifications and the severity of the condition. These questions are:

  • Are you working? You cannot be considered for SSDI if you work and earn $1,470 (if non-blind) or $2,460 (if blind) or more each month, which is the 2023 standard.
  • Is your condition “severe?” The condition must restrict you from doing activities such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting or remembering for at least 12 months.
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The Social Security office keeps a list of impairments, and your disability must be on Part A or Part B of that list to qualify.
  • Can you do the work you previously did? You are only eligible for the program if you are not physically or mentally capable of work.
  • Can you do any other type of work? The SSA will review work options with you to determine if there is some other form of gainful employment that you can perform.

If you meet these five requirements, you will likely be found eligible. After your application is granted, there is a 6 month waiting period before you can receive benefits.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability

You should apply for Social Security benefits as soon as you are determined disabled, due to the 6-month waiting period. You can apply for disability benefits online or by phone. To apply online, go to the Social Security Disability website, where you can access a digital application form.

To apply for SSDI by phone, you can call 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment for your disability interview at a local Social Security office. Candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing may call toll-free 1-800-325-0778 to receive telecommunication assistance from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday. The SSA representatives can take application information by phone or schedule an interview. If you need help calling Social Security, a friend or family member may call on your behalf to assist.

Additionally, you have the right to representation by an attorney when you file your claim for benefits. However, you are responsible for any costs associated with legal representation. But your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you upfront without written approval from the SSA.

An interview will be the final stage to determining your SSDI disability qualifications, and you will be asked the five questions previously listed above. The interview following the initial application will also require you to present documentation of your identity, disability and financial need. The documents required are your:

  • Social Security card.
  • Birth certificate.
  • Hospitals’ and doctors’ contact information.
  • Medication information, including name and dosage.
  • Medical history, including laboratory and test results.
  • Work history summary.
  • Most recent W-2 form.

The Social security disability application takes at least 3 to 5 months to process, so you should not hesitate to apply. If you are unable to gather all this information quickly, the SSA will assist. Do not hesitate to apply because you do not have every necessary item. The final decision on your case will be sent by mail. However, applicants who are blind may choose to receive a phone call, audio CD or a notice in braille.

Find out About Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income

Though the SSDI waiting period is 6 months, most candidates who are qualified for SSDI are also qualified for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Office. Additionally, SSI does not have a waiting period and the benefits from that program are distributed the first month a candidate is deemed eligible.

The current Social Security max income is $934 for individuals and $1,391 for couples. An eligible candidate can collect SSI to help with costs of living for the first 6 months until they receive SSDI benefits. Once a beneficiary starts receiving SSDI, their SSI payments will decrease in value but the amount of overall monthly benefits may increase.SSI benefits are calculated by subtracting an applicant’s countable income from the maximum benefit amount.

The same application is used for disability benefits and to apply for SSI, so an eligible candidate may request both benefits at the same time. Those who wish to collect from both programs should indicate their interest in their disability interview, in order to start receiving benefits as quickly as possible.