Disability, SSI

Things to Think About Before Applying for Disability Benefits  

June 11, 2020 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

Contemplating man with artificial limb using laptop while sitting on bench in citySocial Security is with you throughout life’s journey. We provide vital financial support to tens of millions of American workers, primarily through retirement benefits. But we’re also there for you if the unexpected happens and a serious medical condition stops you from working to support yourself and your family.

Disability benefits replace a portion of your income

If you become seriously disabled, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits that replace a portion of your lost income. Here are the three key factors we use to determine if you may qualify for disability benefits:

  1. You must have a lasting medical condition so severe that it prevents you from doing the work that you did in the past or adjusting to other types of work.
  2. Your physical or mental impairment(s) must have lasted or be expected to last at least a year or result in death.
  3. You must have worked long enough — and recently enough — in jobs covered by Social Security.

What you should know about earning credits

You become eligible for Social Security benefits by working and paying Federal Insurance Contribution Act taxes, which translate into Social Security “credits.” A person can earn up to four credits a year. How old you are when you become disabled determines the number of credits you need to receive disability benefits.

For example, if you become disabled at age 31 or older, you generally must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled. Twenty credits are equal to five years of substantial earnings. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

Please log in to or create your personal my Social Security account to see how many credits you have earned and to estimate future benefits. Visit our Social Security Credits webpage to learn more about credits.

What if I don’t have enough credits

Those who have not worked enough to qualify for Social Security benefits may be eligible for help through our Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI provides monthly payments to adults and children with a disability or blindness, as well as older people, who have little or no income or resources. Unlike Social Security disability benefits, SSI is funded with general tax revenue, not through Social Security taxes. Learn more on our SSI webpage.

Social Security helps you and millions of other Americans secure today and tomorrow by providing important financial benefits, information, and planning tools. Learn more by visiting our website. Please share this information with your family and friends – and post it on social media.

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About the Author

Darlynda Bogle, Assistant Deputy Commissioner

Darlynda Bogle, Assistant Deputy Commissioner


  1. Rebecca

    Applying for disability benefits requires a lot of skill, lots of record keeping and being very organized. Most people are denied the first time, and some do end up waiting and getting a lawyer before going before an administrative law judge. However if your doctor backs your need, it helps a lot. I applied myself and won the first time.

  2. Kimberly C.

    1. My husband is 70 years young and just started collecting Social Security Income, can he also collect Social Security Disability due to his CABG/Heart disease?

    2. We were told by a Tennessee Social Security agent via phone, we could not collect both

    Thank you, The Coleman’s

    • Anonymous

      Generally if someone’s on disability, when they turn 65.5 years old, it is then transferred to social security retirement. No, he cannot collect both.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Kimberly, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. When a person has reached his or her full retirement age (Currently 66) and is receiving Social Security retirement, they are not longer eligible for disability benefits. Thanks.

  3. Gloria a.

    When paled for social security I had to leave my job on disability because I had copd and on oxygen 24/7 the agent at ss said copd was not cosided a reason to apply for disabilty was that true

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Gloria. You may find our listing of impairments useful. The Social Security Act sets out a very strict definition of disability, much different than the requirements for other government programs.

      To learn more about the process we use to decide if you are disabled under our rules, visit our Disability Planner: How We Decide If You Are Disabled.

      We pay disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have worked long enough and recently enough in jobs covered by Social Security (usually within the last 10 years). The (SSI) program is a needs based program that gives cash assistance to disabled individuals with limited income and resources. We pay disability benefits to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or to end in death. If you think you may be eligible to receive disability benefits and would like to apply, you can use our online application.

  4. lesly f.

    I elderly disable i can’t get benefits because.her earning income i work but i didn’t make inoff earning to qualified for ssa benefits

  5. Learned T.

    Applying for SSD reveals that work is a loser’s game, as the system is corrupt and requires getting a lawyer to take a large portion of the disabled person’s benefit. This is a scam and exploitation of those who work. My loved one who has dementia is expected to fatten a lawyer’s wallet, and to do so “properly” has to wait for years to get approved (if ever) so that the corrupt lawyer can collect the maximum allowed. Disgusting. Good thing that socialism, though Venezuela-style, is coming under Trump.

    • BETTY G.

      you shouldn’t need a lawyer for dementia.

      go to ADULT LIST OF IMPAIRMENTS; find the section dealing with that area.

      get their current medical files from all his drs. HIGHLITE THE AREAS that apply to the specific list of impairments specified.

      type up a sheet showing their impairment section no, etc. then showing the date, drs. name, and what dr. said that APPLIES to that specific thing for everything that applies to your loved one.

      lawyers don’t help until it’s time to go before ALJ, administrative law judge; then when you win, they get the maximum of $6,000 or perhaps it’s $7200 now! good luck.

      ames, iowa

  6. Beth H.

    You have info on an increase from 2017. That was 3 long years ago.

  7. Rose L.

    Does The Social Security Administration, have more money available for young people, that might become disabled, as a result of all of the deaths that occurred during the Corona pandemic

  8. Douglas D.

    I need financial help me I need help with money.

  9. Premlata V.

    If someone is over 75 yrs old, has completed 23 quarters, is this person entitled to Medicare?

    I see lot of senior immigrants coming to US on green card and are immediately quality for Medicare without even completing any quarters. Even though his/her sponsor had filed affidavits to take care of that person. Do you think our Medicare system is being abused?

    • Sandra K.

      Yes and we the people are being abused every day by not getting ,at least what illegals are getting of our paid taxes and SS.It is shameful and I,like everyone else,don’t expect any better treatment in our later years.VA is as bad if not worse.Veterans are dying every day being ignored,in pain waiting for some idiot to approve a treatment that could heal-never to get the chance-disrespectful and terrible.

      • Kimberley H.

        First of all what is your definition of “illegals”?
        People here on a green card are not illegal. The green card is legal. There are many varieties of legal status within immigration.

        Second, undocumented people do not qualify for ANY benefits.
        Older people who are Legally reunited with family here, may qualify for SSI which does not require work credits like SSDI or retirement benefits.
        This is the same for born and raised US citizens as well. If you become disabled before you have earned enough work credits or if your work history has been interrupted (for example by taking time off to raise your children) then you may not qualify for regular SSDI.
        SSI is a needs based benefit and any work income or other sources of income will reduce the amount of the grant. It also comes with asset limits of $2,000. So no one is getting rich off your tax dollars except the 1%.
        Medicare is only available for those who have reached a certain age but Medicaid is an income based program that provides medical benefits for people on SSI and others who are income qualified.
        Furthermore, before you complain too hard about “illegals”, remember that they also pay taxes, including Social Security taxes, even though they do not qualify for benefits from Social Security. So in reality they are subsidizing you.
        As for things taking a long time, that is due to volume and also it helps to work with an attorney who can advise you on what documentation you will need from Drs, etc. as well as being familiar with the forms and procedures and helping you navigate a very complex system.
        I hope this helps to clarify some things for you and others.

        • A

          Actually, if you have been on SSI, or SSDI for more than 2 years, you qualify for Medicare benefits.

        • Mike C.

          Whether a person is legal or not they shouldn’t be able to come here & use all our resources if we don’t have enough for our own people – especially the ones who have fought for us & our freedom. And then holler discrimination if they get denied! And all people in our country should speak English just as u should speak Spanish if u decide to move to Mexico or whatever primary vocab is used where u reside!!!!! Phones shouldn’t say push 1 for English – that should be a given in U.S.A.!!!!! And that alone would help the system move faster!

          • Beth B.

            Amen to that!

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Premlata, thanks for using our blog. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions web page for details on Medicare.

  10. Eileen

    This article should also say “it will take years” and “you may die while waiting” and suggest people don’t rely on this for even the most obvious of cases. My late husband was in cardiac arrest for 67 minutes which resulted in anoxic brain injury. He had to relearn to walk, talk, feed himself, dress, write, figure out who I was, etc. He couldn’t pick up his fork without really working at it, but the original application was denied because it was determined he could be a bank teller, as he had 10 years previously. Um, if you can’t maneuver a fork, you can’t properly handle money.
    We applied for SSD 3 months after the cardiac arrest. He died 17 months after his cardiac arrest. His application wasn’t approved until the administrative judge level of appeals which took place 9 months after he died, and it wasn’t paid until 17 more months after he died – strangely AFTER I went to the press for help. Super helpful income replacement.

    • johanna c.

      This makes me so sad, but doesn’t surprise me, because as government agencies increase in size they have less accountability.

    • JON

      Your story is so typical of how the govt moves.

    • BETTY G.


      i’m so sorry for what you both went thru and especially taking so long after he passed away.

      with his serious condition, he should have been approved in less than 3 MONTHS TOPS!

      from ames, iowa

    • Paul K.

      I couldn’t agree more. Get this, after waiting for over 3 years with an attorney, I was denied. I visited the judge two times. The second time was to have their work advocate questioned by my attorney to see if I was able to keep a job with my issues. The advocate agreed I would not be able to hold a position working.
      The judge says to me “Mr Kleinguenther, I have one final question, if you claim to stay indoors often due to your disability, how do you explain the color of your skin?”
      I immediately answered, “I’m half Italian and half German”.
      I’m white, it was November and I left there feeling shocked that I was asked such a racist question. When I tried to appeal and report the incidence I was denied again and the letter also noted no racial bias detected. It also specified the reason I was denied was “Lack of work credits” Don’t you think my attorney would have been notified in the very beginning about that instead of letting it all play out for over 3 years?This all happened back in 2015 and still, everyday, that question haunts me.
      Living off of just SSI is a struggle and after going through 3 spinal surgeries so far and recently was informed I have to get both hips replaced, there’s no way I can even do 20 hrs a week working somewhere to help ends meet.

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