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. william T.

    I was attact in my home a well in has been a few years now I was hit in the head with a hammer caved my skull in I was in a coma for six day two operation getting the bones out of my bran doc told my family that thay were trying to save me but he did not thank I would live well I did but I have had two seizures I drvo a semi im 57 thay told me I could not drv anymore I hauled bombs
    Out of okla to seal Beach cal hazmat im wanting to know if there is any help to maybe get some cyber security class get help to pay for this were i can maybe work agin this is hurting me. By not doing something but i can afford it but im not dead would like to try and make money agin but i have no help or it seems no one cares that i dont want to be disabled is there any one i could get to help me pay for this maybe im fine but the seizures i thank I could still be of help to someone but I cant even get help to try thank u.

  2. Shari D.

    I have been receiving social security for about 10 years. After 4 operations in the past couple of years, my right eye is now blind and the vision in the left is diminishing. Is there any benefit to filing for help as a blind person? I haven’t asked yet what “degree” of blindness I am. I am still getting used to suddenly losing the vision of one eye. But, I will ask at my next appointment(in a month).

    I also have an auto-immune disease & need a knee replacement (according to the orthopedist – steroid shots are just not cutting it anymore). I have no idea if this info is relevant – just telling you in case it mitigates the circumstances. It certainly affects the amount of $$ I spend on meds each month. ;o)

    Thanks so much for any guidance you can give me.

    Best regards,

    Shari D. Farrar

  3. Ann R.

    My husband will begin receiving SS disability benefits soon. I’m thinking about filing for my own SS retirement benefits at age 64, 2.5 years before my FRA. I know my benefit will be reduced. How will this affect my spousal benefit amount?

    • V.V.

      Hi Ann, thanks for using our blog to ask your questions. If you qualify for a retirement benefit from your own work history you can file for that benefit as early as age 62. You cannot receive additional spouse’s benefits unless your spouse is receiving retirement or disability benefits (except for divorced spouses).

      If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to apply, your own retirement portion remains reduced. When you add spouse’s benefits later, the total retirement and spouses benefit together will total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more about this at our Benefits for Spouses web page.

  4. Kathy C.

    I just got out of hospital after treatment for covid 19. I am on oxygen at this time I also have COPD. Heritated disc L4-L5 and several other less severe medical issues. Should I apply for disability? Not sure if my breathing will improve enough to allow me to return to office.

    • V.V.

      Hi Kathy. 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.

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