Your 2016 Guide to Social Security Disability Benefits

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The Social Security world can be confusing, with all its abbreviations — such as SSDI, SSI, SSN, and so on. It’s worth learning more about it, though, because Social Security offers much more than just retirement benefits. If you’re disabled, for example, you may qualify for benefits and may want to learn how to submit an application. Read on!

Let’s first clear up two often confused letter groupings, though — SSDI and SSI. There are two Social Security programs that offer benefits to the disabled: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This article is focused on the SSDI program — which as of 2015, was delivering benefits to about 10.8 million people, including close to 9 million disabled workers, more than 140,000 spouses, and more than 1.7 million children.

Here’s a quick explanation of the SSI, though, as it may be of use to you or someone you know. The Supplemental Security Income program is designed to offer benefits to elderly (aged 65 and up), blind, or disabled adults — and to disabled or blind children, too — who have sufficiently little in the way of income and assets. It can be received by folks who are also receiving Social Security retirement benefits or SSDI benefits.


SSDI, in a nutshell
The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides benefits to disabled people who have worked enough to qualify as “insured.” Most folks will need to have worked for 10 years, but there are lower thresholds for younger people, and a few other rules, too. For example, a 46-year-old person will typically need about six years of work. Some family members of qualifying disabled people may be able to receive benefits as well.

The disabled person will also have to meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled for this program. For starters, they will need to have a medical condition that prevents them from working and that’s long-term, expected to last at least a year or to lead to death.

How much might you receive in benefits if you qualify? Well, it will depend on your earnings history, just like Social Security retirement benefits depend on them. The average monthly benefit was recently $1,165 (that’s about $14,000 per year), but the SSA offers some online calculators that can help you get an idea of what you can expect.

The definition is strict, but many qualify. Source:

Here are some specific things the Social Security Administration considers as it reviews your application:

  • Whether you’re currently working, and if you are, how much you’re earning: The limits change every year or so. In 2016, for example, if you’re disabled (but not blind) and earning more than $1,130 per month, on average, you won’t qualify. The limit is $1,820 if you’re blind.
  • The severity of your condition: The Social Security Administration’s definition of disability requires you be significantly limited in terms of being able to do basic working activities (such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, and remembering) for at least a year.
  • Whether your condition or impairment is on the list: The SSA will check to see if your condition is on their list…

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