To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must have an illness, injury, or disability that meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of physical or mental impairment. Your illness, injury, or disability must prevent you from being substantially gainfully employed.
You must also have paid Social Security taxes for long enough to qualify, and you must also be below your normal retirement age.
Qualifying for Social Security Benefits
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal assistance program that is funded by Social Security taxes. To qualify for the program’s benefits, you must meet specific health, income, age, and work requirements. We discuss each of these requirements below.
You can apply for SSDI benefits if you have a qualifying health condition that prevents you from working for at least 12 consecutive months. You can also apply for benefits if your health condition is terminal and is expected to lead to death.
Some of the health conditions recognized by the Social Security Administration as eligible for benefits include:
- Certain cancers
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Sense disorders
- Respiratory disorders
- Digestive system illnesses
- Hematological (blood) disorders
- Skin and endocrine disorders
- Brain and neurological disorders
- Immune system illnesses
The SSA has a listing of all qualifying health conditions, also known as the Blue Book. In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, your illness must be provable via medical testing, and it must prevent you from being substantially gainfully employed.
The Social Security Administration uses the national average wage index (AWI) to calculate substantial gainful activity (SGA) income limits. If you earn more than the SGA limit, you are classified as being substantially gainfully employed, and you are therefore not classified as having a disability that prevents you from working. Accordingly, earning more than the SGA for your disability precludes you from receiving benefits.
For 2020, the SGAs for blind and non-blind individuals are $2,110 and $1,260, respectively. For 2021, these figures are $2,190 and $1,310, respectively. If you earn more than these amounts per month, you may not be eligible for SSDI benefits.
If you have a qualifying health condition and meet the Social Security Administration’s income test, you can be eligible for SSDI benefits until your normal retirement age (NRA). For individuals born in or after 1960, your NRA is 67. For those born between 1937 and 1960, it is between 65 and 67.
Once you reach your NRA, your SSDI benefits may stop, but you may be eligible to receive Social Security Retirement Income instead.
As mentioned above, SSDI is funded by Social Security taxes. When you pay these taxes from your weekly or monthly earnings, you earn work credits. You can earn up to four work credits per year. In most cases, you need 40 work credits—10 years’ worth of Social Security tax payments—to be eligible for benefits. There are exceptions to the 40-credit rule for workers below a certain age.
Losing Social Security Disability Benefits
You can lose your SSDI benefits if you start to earn more than your SGA limit. Furthermore, your SSDI benefits may change after you cross your normal retirement age. You may also lose your SSDI benefits if you become incarcerated for more than 30 days, although you can reapply for them once you are released.
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Applying for SSDI Benefits
You can apply for SSDI in-person at your local Social Security office or via mail. You can also file on SSA Disability Benefits. Before applying, you should have:
- Your Social Security Number
- Proof of all forms of income
- Medical proof of your illness or disability
- Military service information
- Evidence of work history
- Contact information of your doctor
- Bank information for receiving benefits if you are approved
If your SSDI benefits application is denied, the Social Security Administration provides a four-stage appeals process for you to have your case reconsidered by a different authority.
Contact Underwood Law Office Today
Underwood Law Office provides legal services to Social Security Disability applicants in Texas. We may be able to help you file your SSDI application or represent you during the appeals process if your initial application was denied. Our firm works on a contingency-fee-basis with no upfront payments required.