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


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  2. Tom S.

    My wife is 62 and has been on SSDI for the last 18 months. I am 62 and still working. She is covered on my employers health insurance plan. Is she required to sign up for Medicare after two years? Is there any advantage to signing up for Medicare and also being on my employers plan?

    • Patty

      Hi Tom, thanks for using our blog. Your wife will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and B once she has been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months. An information packet will arrive in the mail a few months before she becomes eligible. Choosing whether to keep Medicare or the employer group health insurance is an important decision that involves a number of issues she may need to consider. The decision she makes will depend on her situation and the type of health insurance she has. If she decides to terminate Medicare Part B, check out our Frequently Asked Questions web page for the details. You may wish to contact your local Medicare SHIP (State Health Insurance Program Coordinator) to discuss your options. We hope this helps.

  3. dianasteve

    Being disabled is certainly not expected by everyone, and I am grateful that I was born with a normal life and can enjoy my life by playing label138 slot games, besides that I also want to have insurance to cover my life.

  4. Audrey B.

    My son was approved for ssi before then was taken off because our income was more than$2000
    I tried to reapply for ssi again for him but was denied and reason was we made more than $2000 a month
    What’s the next step i need to do ?

    • Vonda

      Hi Audrey, thanks for using our blog. SSI makes monthly payments to people with low income and limited resources who are 65 or older, or blind, or disabled. Your child, if younger than age 18, can qualify if they have a medical condition or combination of conditions that meets Social Security’s definition of disability for children. We also must consider your child’s income and resources when deciding if your child is eligible for SSI as well as the income and resources of family members living in the child’s
      household. Check out the publication Benefits for Children with Disabilities for more details.

      If you would like to apply for your child, you can call us call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance 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.

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  6. Dark a.

    You believe or not i think i’s a dark side of a life over real fact. They can know who actually suffer of this kind of pain.

  7. Scott M.

    I’m on social security disability from work, I’m 62 with Cardiovascular disease and sever Copd and unable to return to work. What documents do I need to file for SSI until full retirement.

    • Diana

      If you’re on full SSDI from work then you don’t qualify for SSI.

  8. Susan J.

    My ex husband passed on Jan 1, 2021. I never remarried, either did he. Can I collect on his ss benefits? I’m 71 and we were married 17 years. Ty in advance.

    • Patty

      Hi Susan, thanks for your question. If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies, you could get benefits provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more. Typically, a surviving divorced spouse at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount. However, you would only switch over to that amount if it is higher than what you’re currently receiving.
      We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning you don’t get both retirement and widow(er)s benefits but the higher of the two. For more information about how much your benefit would be, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

      To inquire about potential benefits, call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance 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.

  9. Dawn

    My daughter’s Drs stated all 2 xs that she can’t work due to health. Ssi denied her Then tells her that because she’s still legally married ( LGBT) she was also not illegable to recurve on her wife’s when they were still together. So what’s she have to do have heart attack major anxiety and Flipp out? To get anything done.i don’t know what to do no answers or help from SSA

    • JOHN P.

      Contact your congressmans office his team will help you. That’s what they are paid to do.

    • David B.

      I have been fighting Social Security since 2001 I’ve had numerous back surgeries blood pressure out the roof anxiety mental issues they still will not give it to me I just went to the court of appeals to try to get it they say 8 to 10 months and we’ll find out keeping my fingers crossed even their doctor Social Security doctors that I can’t work and the judge just does what they want you you can’t fight them you can hope hope for the best with a good lawyer

    • Anna S.

      hello Dawn,
      No matter what- Do Not Give up! This is what they Want her to do. Appeal all non-accepted Verdicts. I have been turned down for SSDI for the last 9 yrs. 5 mos., keep going to Doctors, Keep going to councilors. Document everything. I finally found a great attorney who really new her stuff. It was hard to just keep fighting, for us to go without….ALOT. But in the and I did finally win and the Judge has ordered that I recieve the whole 9.4 yrs. of Backpays. Good luck. I hope your daughter get’s all She is intitled to. Just DO NOT GIVE UP!! I had my friends and family, and even my neighbor write me a Victims Witness statement stating who I arm now compaired with who I was then (before becoming disabled) how my quality of life has changed. My daughter is the one who comes and helps me with my daily chores and life. takes me to my appts., She wrote a statement about all she does to help, Why she feels I need help and What would happen if I was unable to get help. How our life was before the onset of my disability. It did help. I wish you luck.. A. in Alaska

  10. Jeanette

    Good Day,
    I am 59 and just started getting SSDI after 3 tries. Thank you
    Before getting sick, I planned to retire from Government at 63 with 40 years of service.
    Now I am not working. Do I claim retiremrnt at 63 or now? My husband is deceased. Should I file for survivors benefits now?
    Thank you for help

    • Teodora A.

      I am receiving SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS. I worked for 36 years and started collecting full benefits from SOCIAL SECURITY at the age of 66 1/2. I was also able to collect some social security benefits from my ex-husband SS and my SS went up by $600.00. This was after his passing 3years ago. I was married with him for24 years. When he was still alive I could not file SS benefits from his SS as my benefits will decrease by $700.00 plus. It’s only after his passing I was able to collect as his wife also collected from it.

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