Disability, Online Services

Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits

August 12, 2021 • By

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Last Updated: August 12, 2021

woman in wheelchair holding a dog's pawsDisability is something most people don’t like to think about, but the chances that you’ll become disabled are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age.

Social Security pays disability benefits through two programs:


  1. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.
  2. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security pays benefits to people who can’t work because they have a medical condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. In addition to meeting our definition of disability, individuals must have worked long enough — and recently enough — under Social Security to qualify for SSDI benefits. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not.

SSDI is funded through payroll taxes. Recipients have worked for years and have contributed to the Social Security trust fund in the form of Social Security taxes – received under either the Federal Insurance Contributions Act for employees or the Self-Employment Contributions Act for the self-employed. These taxes translate into Social Security “credits.” Qualified dependents of a disabled work may also receive benefits even though they may not have worked.

The amount needed for a work credit changes from year to year. In 2021, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,470 in wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $5,880, you’ve earned your four credits for the year.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI provides payments to people with disabilities who have low income and few resources. Although Social Security manages the program, the SSI program is funded by general tax revenues and is not paid for from Social Security taxes. Also, SSI benefits are not based on your work history.

How You Qualify

It’s important to know which benefits you may qualify to receive. Please read our publications, Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), for more information. You can also see if you meet the requirements for disability benefits on our How You Qualify page. When you apply for either program, we’ll collect medical and other information from you and make a decision about whether or not you qualify for benefits.

You can apply online for retirement, spouse’s, Medicare, or disability benefits.

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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. Trey H.

    I’m 31 years old. I’m receiving SSI only. I did not have enough credits to get SSDI on my own record. My dad filed for his social security benefits today. Am I able to receive Sadi off of my dads work record? What do I need to do to apply?

    • Trey H.

      I’ve been receiving ssi since 2014. Will that stop me from receiving ssdi from my fathers social security record?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Trey. Thanks for your questions. To receive disability benefits as an adult child on your father’s record after age 18, the disabling impairment must have started before age 22. See our Disability Planner: Benefits For A Disabled Child page for more information. If you have additional specific questions about your eligibility, please call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  2. Cece

    I’m on SSDI & I’m divorced from a marriage that lasted over 10 years. At what age can I start collecting from my ex’s retirement & does he have to be deceased?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Cece. Thanks for your your questions. To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, be age 62 or older, and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information on how to qualify for divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner.  We hope this helps.

  3. Teresa H.

    If my spouse is on disability and started collecting at 60 , when I retired if I collect off his , would it be based on amount he collects now or what his would have at full retirement age?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Teresa. Thanks for your question. Your benefit as a spouse can be equal to one-half of your husband’s full retirement amount only if you start receiving those benefits at your full retirement age. If a person begins to receive benefits at age 62 or prior to their full retirement age, their benefits are reduced. The reduction factors are permanently applied to all of the benefits the person may qualify for once they opt to start benefits at age 62 or at any time prior to their full retirement age. You may still be eligible to collect reduced benefits on your spouse’s record. Remember, if you qualify for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefits first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. See our Retirement Planner for more information. We hope this helps. 

  4. Cathy W.

    On October 4, 2021, I was given a fully favorable decision on my disability claim that dates back to June 2017. I have started to receive my monthly payments but still have not had my back pay released. I have had both my attorney as well as the social security office send inquiries to payment processing and I have been unable to get an answer to why my monies have not been released. What other step can I take to get a response? Who else can I contact?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Cathy. We are sorry to hear that. Please be aware our call volume is higher than normal. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We encourage you to continue to 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.

  5. Jeffry A.

    I am FERS employee retired from 2020) and permanent Disabled American Veteran with 59 years old. Can I apply to SSDI and If I qualify How affect me?

    • Ann C.

      First of all, we want to thank you for your service to our country.  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 end in death. You may find our listing of impairments useful. We pay disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs-based disability program that pays benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. The SSDI program provides benefits to insured disabled or blind adults covered by workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust funds. If you feel that you meet our definition of disability, you can apply online.  We hope this information helps.


  6. Sharon J.

    What qualifies one to receive ssdi & ssi?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Sharon. 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. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, on the other hand, are based on earnings and are not subject to income and resource limits. For more information on the difference between Social Security disability and SSI, check out our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this information is helpful. 

  7. Drone y.

    I was hert resly week disability cover that can’t work tell me dine an appeal, why hard disability am was hert last year’s that my answers y .

    • Drone y.

      Think you ..tlk me disability not hard apply it is had job pay most of money come for real who esl felling that way..?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Drone. 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.

  8. Debra E.

    I retired from teaching in August of 2020. I qualified for a disability pension from the State of New Jersey because I have Parkinsons. I chose not to apply for social security disability benefits. I am 63 and planned to go on medicare at 65. The state assumes because I have a disability pension that I’m receiving social security benefits too and want me go on medicare . How do I prove to them that I’m not receiving benefits and do not need to go on medicare until I reach 65?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Debra. You can get proof that you do not receive benefits by visiting your personal my Social Security account. We hope this helps. 

    • Drone y.

      Age 31 a person pass way still not work pay disability most job I had apov for short term disability hert aging

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