Helpful Facts About Social Security Disability Benefits

July 22, 2021 • By

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Last Updated: July 21, 2021

People together going down the sidewalk talkingWhen the unexpected happens and you can no longer work due to a serious medical condition, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can be a lifeline for you and your family.

Most American workers contribute to Social Security through federal payroll taxes. If your working years are cut short by a severe and lasting illness or injury, our SSDI provides monthly financial assistance.

Six facts you should know about our SSDI program

  1. SSDI is coverage that workers earn. If you paid enough Social Security taxes through your lifetime earnings, our SSDI provides support by replacing some of your income if you’re disabled and unable to work.
  2. The Social Security Act—the law governing SSDI—has a strict definition of disability. We consider you disabled if you can’t work due to a serious medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or result in death. We do not offer temporary or partial disability benefits.
  3. Disability can happen to anyone at any age. Serious medical conditions, such as cancer and mental illness, can affect the young and elderly alike. One in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before retirement age. As a result, they may need to rely on Social Security disability benefits for income support.
  4. SSDI payments help disabled workers to meet their basic needs. The average monthly Social Security disability benefit is $1,280, as of April 2021, which allows disabled workers who can no longer work meet their basic needs.
  5. Social Security works aggressively to prevent, detect, and help prosecute fraud. Our agency is committed to protecting your investment. Along with our Office of the Inspector General, we take a zero tolerance approach to fraud. The result is a fraud incidence rate that is a fraction of one percent.
  6. Social Security helps people return to work without losing benefits. Often, people would like to re-enter the workforce. However, many worry they’ll lose disability benefits if they try working, or if they’re unsuccessful in returning to work. We connect them to free employment support services and help them maintain benefits, such as health care. Learn about our Ticket to Work program on our website.

We’re with you through life’s journey, paying disability benefits to almost 10 million disabled workers and their spouses and children. Learn more about our disability insurance program today.

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About the Author

Dawn Bystry, Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications


  1. Jannet

    What about my mother who has never been to any states of america but she is the legit beneficiary of my deceased father and now she is also weak so what can you advise to do in the midst of pandemic. I contacted U.S. Embassy Manila. They always reply me that my mother has to go in any states of America. I hope you have laws and/or exceptions to the rules.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Jannet. We are sorry to hear about your mother’s condition and her situation. In certain cases, non-citizens can receive Social Security benefits. But, in order for her to receive benefits, we must have evidence of her lawful presence. That means before we can pay out benefits for any given month, we must have evidence that she was lawfully present in the United States, during that month. For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions. Thanks!

      • Lyquinta M.


  2. Teri P.

    What are work credits and how do I find out if I have enough? So far all I’ve been asked is how many of last 10 yrs have I worked!

    • Era P.

      AN up date my work and social !
      I have worked all my life { 1st WE were farmers and did all the work < could not go to school so had no education .{ 2nd job } at the age 16 took a sales job at the 5 and 16 cent store, next took a counter job at Bakers restrunt next at 18 took a care hop job in Alabama At 19 i moved to Pensacola , Fla took a job at trailways bus station as counter servere ,
      So this was the life went for me. I signeg to go to school but had to start in grade 1 this didnt last long and working also.
      I was haveing BIPOLA Problems in early 70 but was so ige, i trook thier word that i didnt quilify.
      I have asked several times , took thier word again and again this should have been .

    • A.C.

      Hi, Teri. Thank you for your question. Credits are the “building blocks” we use to find out whether you have the minimum amount of covered work to qualify for each type of Social Security benefits. No benefits can be paid if you do not have enough credits. For more information, visit here. We hope this helps.

  3. Donna W.

    My brother has a very aggressive cancer. He has worked all of his life. His wife started the process of receiving SSDI. He might be dead before he receives his first payment. Is there a way to expedite payment. They received a letter stating they wouldn’t see the first payment until Dec.

    • Melinda M.

      They told me that they had to have an answer by March and here July. I have to reduce paper work and Drs and. I am sorry you are going through this also. I am going to right a couple letters. There is a sight that Biden has asked for people to do Video on something linked to covid and our lives. I am gonna do it? So you might check that out.?

    • A.C.

      Hi, Donna. We are sorry to hear about your brother’s condition. For his security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We believe that what you are referring to is possible back pay. Many factors go into determining whether or not a claimant qualifies for back pay once approved. For example, in cases of disability, a claimant is not entitled to benefits within the five-month waiting period. Benefits will be paid beginning with the sixth full month after the date the disability began. If all factors of entitlement are met, a claimant could possibly qualify for back pay depending on the situation. For specific questions about his benefits, he can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. Generally, he will have a shorter wait if he calls later in the day. He can also contact his local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  4. Hesham M.

    I live now overseas in cairo egypt .I used to get access to my account over the internet but now they ask me for activation code which I don’t have. And I suppose to apply for my retirement next year in February over the internet and I don’t know what to do can you help me please

  5. Hesham M.

    I can’t get access to my account I live overseas in Egypt. Because I don’t have activation code .so I can’t apply for my retirement benefits next year in February. So can you help me.
    Thank you.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Hesham. Since you are living outside of the U.S., you can contact your local Federal Benefits Unit for any assistance related to Social Security benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad. We hope this helps.

  6. Amador S.

    I have been working all my life since I was 14 years old and in2017 I had a roll over in a semi truck and trailer and in 2919 I had a stroke I’ve been trying to get social security every since 2019 now in 2021 I just got approved but I have to wait till 2022 in January just so that I can get my first check the only problem is I’m going to get from June up to December of 2021 of back pay I don’t know what happened that I’m not going to receive anything from June 2019 till June 2021and still than I have to wait till January 2022 to receive any type of help bad thing about this is bill’s are running and I don’t know what to do they have not even said if I can work part time some how or other I need to get help so I can pay my bill I just don’t know what to do. I not taking money from nobody all the money that I have work for is at least that’s what I thought.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Amador. We are sorry to hear about your condition and your situation. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. Generally, you will have a shorter wait if you call later in the day. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  7. Joseph

    I just want to thank everyone that works for the social Security disability. You people 100 percent saved my life. Every time I talk to someone they are so helpful. For how many people you help I’m am very greatful you people are here. Thank you so much.

    • Brenda V.


    • A.C.

      Hi, Joseph. Thanks for your feedback! Your thoughts are important to us and we’re pleased when feedback is positive. We try hard to provide the best possible service to our customers and your satisfaction is our reward.

  8. LUIS D.

    A consumer previously receiving SSI, and after husband died, her SSI award is now a % of SSDI and was included in her survivors benefits award total. Is that correct?

    Can a consumer retired on SS can apply for SSDI if become/found disabled.

    • Calliezmom

      You cannot receive both SSDI (disability) and SS (retirement) simultaneously. Your SSDI benefit automatically becomes SS Retirement at your full retirement age (which varies by birth year). You do not have to apply or do anything for this to occur. So no, you cannot receive both SSDI and SS Retirement simultaneously. Good luck and good health to you!

      • LUIS I.

        Thank you so much Ms. Calliezmom.

        Is clear enough.

        Be well.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Luis. Thanks for your questions. First, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a needs-based program that pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. For more information about how income may affect SSI benefits, visit here. As for your second question, we pay disability benefits to people under their full retirement age who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or end in death. Once people reach full retirement age, we pay them their retirement benefits. If an individual is under their full retirement age, they can file for disability benefits. We hope this helps.

  9. Ana M.

    I became disabled with severe eczema and it was a very scary time in my life. I tried to work but after a few years, it became abundantly clear that my skin condition made it impossible. People would look at me and be fearful that they’d catch it even though I would tell them it’s not contagious. They would not want to touch things I had touched. It was difficult to think clearly while my skin would burn and blisters from the inside. It became so unbearable at times that clothing on my skin hurt. Needless to say, after years of suffering, I couldn’t work. Couldn’t pay rent, my car got repossessed. I had a roommate that could no longer continue to wait till I got money to pay my rent and I was about to be on the streets when I called social security to follow up on my application and was finally told I’d be getting disability benefits. I had worked all my life and never imagined that I’d be unable to work. I thank God and social security for having the ability to now live with a roof over my head and pay my bills.

  10. Amy

    Is it true that you can’t have any assets such as a 401k when you apply for SSI and that you must exhaust any savings before you can receive a payment?

    • philip S.

      i believe that ” spend down ( ridding of one’s assetts) ” is only required when going into Medicare/ Medicade housing programs offering long term 24 hour care. mainly because Medicare/ Medicade requires income limits to the individuals going into assisted care facilities.

    • Georgia

      SSDI doesn’t have a resource (asset) limit, but SSI does. If you are applying for SSI, you’ll need to have assets less than $2,000. And, yes, they count money in your 401K. If you have enough work history to qualify for SSDI, you don’t need to worry about having too much in assets, because it’s not considered. SSI and SSDI are both disability benefits, administered by Social Security, but are very different. SSI is for low-income people who haven’t worked much.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Amy. Thanks for your question. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a needs-based program that pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. To be eligible for SSI, a person must have $2,000 or less in countable resources. You can find more information on the SSI program and how to apply here. We hope this helps.

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