IF AN INJURY OR MEDICAL condition makes you unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability payments. The Social Security Administration provides benefits to disabled individuals who have worked and paid taxes into the program. To receive disability checks, you’ll need to file a claim and meet certain criteria.
The Social Security disability application process can be complex and confusing. The following are commonly asked questions about applying for and receiving Social Security disability payments. By understanding the basics of Social Security disability benefits, you’ll gain a better sense of what steps to take for your situation.
To qualify for Social Security disability, you’ll need to have worked long enough at a job in which you paid Social Security taxes. “The length depends on your age when you file and how many work credits you’ve received through the Social Security system,” says Raymer Malone, owner of High Income Protection Insurance Agency. You can earn a maximum of four credits for each year you work. In general, you need 40 credits to receive disability benefits, and 20 of those credits need to be earned in the last 10 years before you become disabled. Younger workers may qualify for disability benefits with fewer credits.
In addition, your health has to fit specific requirements. “Your medical condition must have been sustained for at least a year, or be expected to last at least one year, or be expected to result in your death,” says Daniel R. Hill, president of D.R. Hill Wealth Strategies, a Richmond, Virginia, investment advisory firm.
Your physician may consider you to be disabled, but to receive benefits, your claim will need to be approved by the Social Security Administration. “The doctor’s determination is one factor in the determination process, but ultimately it becomes the judgement of the Social Security Administration and their group of authorizing employees,” Hill says. To evaluate if you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you can use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool on the Social Security Administration website.
You can apply for Social Security disability online or over the phone at 800-772-1213. You can also visit a local Social Security office to start the process.
To complete your Social Security disability application, you’ll need to provide documents such as:
You’ll also need to set up an hourlong in-person or phone interview. The purpose of this meeting is to help establish if you are unable to carry out substantial work due to your disability. “Obtaining all of your documents, scheduling and attending the appointment and waiting for a determination can take up to eight months,” Hill says.
If your claim is accepted, you can expect to receive disability checks each month. The amount is “based on a calculation of earnings across a worker’s lifetime, just like with Social Security retirement benefits,” says Michael Liner, a disability attorney at Liner Legal in Cleveland. The average monthly benefit for disabled workers is estimated to be $1,258 for 2020.
Certain factors will not impact the benefit. “The amount of a monthly check does not change based on a change in expenses or a change in health circumstances,” Liner says. However, you can expect the amount to be adjusted slightly every year to keep up with inflation.
You can receive Social Security disability benefits as long as you remain disabled. The Social Security Administration periodically reviews claims, and if your condition improves, it could be determined that you no longer meet the criteria for benefits and your payments could be suspended.
If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits and reach full retirement age, your benefits won’t stop. “The name changes from ‘disability benefits' to ‘retirement benefits,' and the benefit amount remains exactly the same,” says David Freitag, a financial planning consultant with MassMutual who specializes in Social Security in Springfield, Massachusetts. “Basically, the disability benefit stops and is replaced by the retirement benefit.”
The Ticket to Work Program is designed to help those who are currently disabled get back into the workforce without immediately losing their benefits. Beneficiaries can work for a nine-month trial period and receive full benefits regardless of how much they earn. Each month in which you earn $910 or more counts as a trial work month in 2020. When the nine-month trial period ends, during the next 36 months you’ll be able to receive full benefits for any month in which you earn less than $1,260 in 2020, or $2,110 if you are blind. If you earn more than these earnings thresholds, you will not get disability benefits for that month. However, if your disability payments stop due to substantial earnings, you may qualify for expedited reinstatement if your health condition makes you unable to continue working.