APPROXIMATELY 1 IN 4, or 61 million, adults in the United States report a disability, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you have a physical or mental impairment that affects your daily activities, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. This financial assistance is available through the federal government and is designed to help individuals who previously worked and paid Social Security taxes.
If you qualify for Social Security disability checks, keep in mind:
Read on to learn how Social Security disability checks are issued and what you can do to increase your overall income when facing a disability.
If you worked for a number of years and paid Social Security taxes before becoming disabled, your benefit will be based on your earnings and tax history. The Social Security Administration allows you to set up an account where you can view a personalized estimate of disability benefits. Your Social Security statement will explain what you are eligible for and how much to expect each month.
By and large, the formula used to calculate your disability benefits is set. “There aren’t many tricks to increase your Social Security disability checks,” says John Bergquist, senior founding partner at Common Sense Financial in South Jordan, Utah. “Ultimately it’s a calculation based on your earnings.”
Take care to apply for benefits as soon as possible after becoming disabled. To be eligible, “The condition has to be reasonably expected to last for a year,” says Quinn Austin-Small, a licensed psychologist in Rensselaer, New York, with experience reviewing and advising disability cases. If your impairment makes it impossible to work and is predicted to last, you can apply for disability benefits right away. You don’t have to wait until a full year has passed to apply.
Ask your physician for help filling out forms, communicating the diagnosis and reporting the information. “You need to be specific,” Austin-Small says. Steer clear of phrases such as “The pain makes it hard to do things.” Instead, explain that you are unable to open doorknobs, have to spend 45 minutes getting ready to leave the house rather than the 10 minutes it took prior to the condition or are not able to stand for longer than 30 minutes at a time due to foot pain.
If you worked for several decades but had to retire early due to a health condition, you may be able to receive disability benefits. Before taking Social Security retirement benefits early, look at applying for Social Security disability benefits. Individuals who do so may be able to avoid taking a reduced early retirement benefit. “If they succeed with the disability claim, they get the higher benefit amount,” Bergquist says. When you reach full retirement age, you’ll start receiving Social Security benefits for retired workers.
However, changes to your condition that enable you to work could impact your eligibility for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration allows you a trial work period, during which you continue receiving benefits regardless of how much you earn. You must report your earnings and work, and the trial work period continues until you have carried out a total of nine trial work months within a five-year period. In 2019, a trial work month consists of a month during which you earn more than $880. After the trial work period, if your earnings are considered substantial, which in 2019 is more than $1,220, or $2,040 if you’re blind, the benefits will stop. However, you may be eligible for expedited reinstatement of your benefit if your earnings drop back below the threshold or your health condition worsens and you are no longer able to work.
If you are a veteran and are receiving VA disability benefits, you may also be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. However, each program has different application procedures and qualifications. Contact your Veterans office or local Social Security office to see what is available.
The Social Security Administration periodically reviews disability cases and determines who is still eligible for benefits. Even if you have been receiving benefits for several years, your eligibility could change if it is determined that you are no longer disabled. “Benefits are not guaranteed for life,” says Jerry Zivic, a recently retired attorney in Sarasota, Florida, who practiced Social Security Disability law for more than 30 years.
In addition to receiving disability benefits every month, you may be eligible for different forms of government assistance. “Start seeing about other social services in the area to apply for,” Austin-Small says. You might be able to receive food stamps or be given a free landline or cellphone. You could receive help with energy costs through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. You might also be able to apply for affordable housing programs or receive assistance with transportation.