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, Acting Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications


  1. sandra c.

    I apply online for disability attorney Ricky stern is supposedly representing me.I received a letter if this is the case I need not do anything info will go thru my attorney I’ve tried to call n have left messages n emails but I have heard a word since Nov or oct2021 .can u tell me have u been duped or what’s going on w my case ?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Sandra. We are sorry to hear that. 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.



  2. Susan S.

    I am on Social Security Disability and have recently turned age 65. I want to know how this affects my status with disability and with retirement. What do I need to know. I have also been unemployed since March 2020 and have recently applied and been accepted for a new part-time job starting this month. I need to know how this new job will affect my benefits. Thank you.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Susan. Thanks for your question. Once a person reaches their full retirement age, we automatically convert their disability benefits to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same. An individual’s full retirement age is determined by their year of birth. As far as working while receiving Social Security disability benefits, special rules allow you to work temporarily without losing your monthly Social Security disability benefits. After your nine-month trial work period, we still provide a safety net that allows you to work another three years risk free. During those three years, you can work and still receive benefits for any month in which your earnings do not exceed a certain limit. For 2022 those limits are: $2,260 for blind individuals; or $1,350 a month if you are not blind. For more information on working while receiving Social Security disability benefits, click here. We hope this helps.

  3. Lianne V.

    I went through the process, won a fully favorable judgement from the ALJ, and months after was told I didn’t have enough recent credits for SSDI. Why did they put me through 17 months of trauma if I never had enough credits? Shouldn’t they have told me that in the beginning? Credits were not mentioned ever, isn’t that evidence after the fact? When the ALJ asked at the hearing if there was ANY reason I shouldn’t get my disability she said no. I am very confused at this point.

  4. Mary

    I cannot find the answer to my question anywhere on SS website… I am drawing SSD on my work record prior to being disabled. My question is when I reach my full retirement age will my monthly benefit amount be increased to what I would have drawn if I had waited until full retirement age? I see lots of people ask this question and it is always answered saying benefits will switch over to regular SS benefits and that you cant draw from two programs at the same time. But my question is, at full retirement age will I start receiving the benefit amount I would have drawn if I had been able to wait to retire at my full retirement age?

    • Vonda

      Hi Mary, 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.

      • David

        How will I know it has changed to retirement benefits?

    • Frank N.

      I am on SSD and I work part time what is the current monthly gross income allowed for 2022 so that I will not incur what is considered any substantial gain

      • Vonda

        Hi Frank, thanks for using our blog. In 2022, you are earning SGA if your earnings, after any allowable deductions, are more than $1,350 in a month. Check out Social Security’s Red Book for descriptions of the many work incentives.

  5. Sharon

    I have been waiting for a disability determination since March of 2021. When can I expect a determination?

    • Vonda

      Hi Sharon, thanks for using our blog. You should call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can call 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.

  6. Terry R.

    If a person receiving SSDI is able to go back to work and wants to get off SSDI will the amount of his SS payments increase when he retires? He is 40 years old now and would probably retire when he’s 65.

    • Vonda

      Hi Terry, thank you for the question. A Social Security retirement benefit is calculated by using your highest 35 years of earnings. If you do not have 35 years of earnings, we will use all of the earnings on your record and factor in an annual total of $0.00 earnings for each of the remaining years.

      If you have a my Social Security account, you can get an estimate of your personal retirement benefits and see the effects of different retirement age scenarios.

      If you are unable to create an account, you can use our online Retirement Estimator. We hope this is helpful!

  7. Jamie

    How are Christmas bonuses counted as part of your monthly compensation? For 2021 the monthly limit SGA $1310. If the bonus puts you over by even a small amount do you lose your benefits for December?

  8. Scott W.

    When are back payments owed to me paid ?

    • Vonda

      For your security, Scott, 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 for assistance or you can call 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. Michael J.

    My understanding is that if you receive disability, you are not to engage in any SGA that would create a study income that would lower your benefit amount. I am understanding that when you reach full retirement age, which is 67 for me; my disability benefits will change to regular retirement benefits. If this is the case does the SGA still apply? Are you than able to engage in any SGA?

    • Vonda

      Hi Michael, thanks for using our blog. Social Security disability benefits automatically change to retirement benefits when disability beneficiaries become full retirement age. Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. We hope this is helpful.

  10. Jeff S.

    I have been on SS disability for 2 years as of Jan 2022. although I am not full retirement age till 66 8month (2 years away) can I still receive Medicare benefits?

    • Vonda

      Hi Jeff, thank you for your question. You are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A and B if you’ve been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months. An information packet will arrive in the mail a few months before you become eligible. For more information, check out the Medicare brochure. We hope this is helpful.

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