How Big Will My Social Security Disability Benefit Be?

Most people focus on the retirement benefits that Social Security pays. That makes sense, since out of the nearly 62 million people receiving benefits, three-quarters receive retirement benefits. Yet Social Security also provides the valuable service of providing replacement income in the event that you become disabled.

More than 10 million people get Social Security disability benefits, and it’s useful to have an idea upfront about how much you’d receive if you became disabled. Below, we’ll look more closely at how the Social Security Administration calculates disability benefits and what amounts you and your family members might be entitled to receive.

Two Social Security cards overlappiong a $100 bill.
Image source: Getty Images.

Can I get disability benefits under Social Security?

To get benefits, you need to meet a couple of work tests that require you to have had a job in which you paid Social Security payroll taxes. First, you need to have worked recently, with those younger than 24 having worked at least one and a half years out of the past three, those between 24 and 30 having worked half of the period since turning 21, and those 31 or older having worked five years out of the past 10.

Second, you also need enough total work during your career. Through age 42, you’ll have enough total work if you meet the recent work requirement, with 42-year-olds needing five years of total employment. After that, though, the requirement goes up by half a year for every two additional years of age, topping out at 9.5 years for those age 60 or older.

How are my benefits calculated?

The process for calculating disability benefits is very similar to that for retirement benefits. The SSA looks at your work history and determines your average indexed monthly earnings. Then, it runs that number through a formula that produces a primary insurance benefit. To determine the primary insurance benefit in 2018, you’d take your average indexed monthly earnings and run it through three income ranges as follows:

  • Take 90% of the first $895.
  • Add 32% of any amount between $895 and $5,397.
  • Add 15% of any amount over $5,397.

So for example, if your average earnings was $3,000, you’d take 90% of $895 and then add in 32% of the remaining $2,105. So $805.50 plus $673.60 equals $1,479.10, so that’s what your primary insurance amount would be, and…

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