Disability, SSI

Things to Think About Before Applying for Disability Benefits  

June 11, 2020 • By

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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. Donna L.

    I was forced to go on as disability at 55 due to major car accident. SS notified meat ss age they automatically changed me to retirement ss. I’m below average poverty level so inquired about spouse benefits. Still legally married but not living together, and I’m 72 now, spouse is 77 they say I can’t get part of his?? Have to wait for him to die, why, I’ll probably only get the $255 lump sum then. Can someone explain to me how I can’t get part of his, he made more $$ than me and worked longer to pay in. Thank you

    • Vonda

      Hi Donna, thanks for using our blog. For you to qualify for spouse’s benefits, your own Social Security benefit must be less than half of your spouse’s Social Security benefit. Check out our Benefits For Your Spouse web page for additional details.

  2. Ricky M.

    My spouse is receiving SS disability, is she also eligible for SS retirement when she is 63?

    • Vonda

      Hi Ricky, thanks for using our blog. When you receive disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, we will automatically convert your disability benefits to retirement benefits, when you attain your Full Retirement Age. The benefit amount will generally remain the same.

  3. Diane

    Is there a limit on how long you can collect Social Security?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Diane, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. Social Security benefits are based on how long you’ve worked, how much you’ve earned, and when you start receiving benefits. You can outlive your savings and investments, but you can never outlive your Social Security benefit. We hope this is helpful!

  4. David J.

    I applied for both SSDI and Early retirement at the same time back on July 22, 2020. My SSDI was approved in just 9 days and says it starts paying early next year (5 month wait). I was told that I could collect my early retirement money while waiting for the SSDI to start which is why I filed both at once.

    Today was the day that I expected my first check for early retirement but nothing. Do I need to file for the early retirement again ???

    • Vonda V.

      Hi David, thank you for using our blog. To check on your retirement application, please call us at 1-800-772-1213 or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  5. Alex

    I have worked for over 43 years. now, I’m working with spondylotitlesis and lumbar stenosis. well, with other issues. would this type is medical issue allow me to qualify for disability.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Alex. We are sorry to hear about your condition. Disability benefits are paid to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more, or to result end in death. For adults, we use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled. We consider any current work activity you are doing, your medical condition, and how it affects your ability to work. For more information about disability and how to apply, visit here. We hope this helps.

  6. Elizabeth

    I have been trying for years too get help I have alot of medical issues and tryed too apply years back in the state of ny and they wouldn’t help at all now I am getting older they still will not help and I am getting worse I have been out of work for omost 2 years now for all reasons now I am having trouble with getting around more most days and no one wants to help me

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  8. Zoe C.

    It’s good to know from this article that a person who is suffering from a lasting medical condition can get assistance and benefits from social security. I think that this program will benefit those people who can’t but still want to support their families. I just hope that they can approach consultants who can provide support for the application.


  9. Brandie M.

    Are our checks being mailed out differently and amount changed.

  10. Cesar A.

    I haved lost my hearing totally causing. Me all. kinds of inconviniesess for work my condition is from severe to profound making me depress not able to function normally. Plus also my ciatic nerves giving problems too as hernic disc got bad and got
    recommended by the Dr that saw not to do hard work due to pain at the lower back and numbness and burning sensations on my left leg so I wonder if I qualify for disability . The

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Cesar. 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.

      For more information visit our “Frequently Asked Questions” web page on disability. Thanks!

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