If you have a medical condition that prevents you from working, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits. You may also receive disability benefits if you have a condition that is expected to result in your death.
Disability benefits make up for income lost by a disease, illness, or mental condition that impairs a person from earning substantial income for a year or longer. (The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers substantial monthly income for 2008 to be $940 or more for non-blind individuals.) You can continue to receive disability benefits while actively seeking work.
Disability insurance benefits are a means-tested federal social welfare program. The SSA has a very strict definition of disability. First of all, an eligible disability must be considered a total disability. It cannot be a partial or temporary disability. Short-term disability claims are generally handled by state temporary disability insurance (TDI) or workers compensation agencies.
In order to be eligible for disability insurance benefits, you must also have earned enough Social Security credits. Similar to survivors insurance, your family members are generally eligible to receive disability benefits based on your earnings record. Primary rules of eligibility for various family members are:
Spouse. Your spouse is eligible to receive disability insurance benefits if age 62 or older. A spouse is also eligible if he or she takes care of your child who is under age 16, or the child is disabled and is receiving disability benefits based on your earnings record.
Widow(er). If you are a widow(er) over 50 and become disabled within one year before your spouse's death or within seven years after your spouse dies, you are eligible for your spouse's disability insurance (Disabled Widow's or Widower's Benefits).
Dependent children. Your children that are under 18 and unmarried are eligible to receive disability benefits based on your earnings record. Children may be adopted children. In some cases, they may be step- or grandchildren. If your child is attending elementary or secondary school fulltime, he or she may receive disability benefits until age 19.
Your child may be eligible for disability benefits if they are age 18 or older and have a disability that started before they reached age 22. If they are younger than 18 and have been receiving disability benefits, you should contact the SSA to ensure that benefits continue on the basis of the child's disability after the child reaches 18.
If you become disabled before you turn age 24, you must have earned at least six credits in the three-year period that ended with the onset of your disability.
If you are between ages 24 and 30, you need to have earned credits for half of the period between age 21 and the onset of your disability. For example, if you were 27 when you become disabled, you could have earned as many as 24 credits since turning 21. Since you need half to be eligible, you would need to have earned 12 credits.
If you are age 31 or older, you need to have earned at least 20 credits in the 10-year period ending with the onset of your disability. The following table shows the number of credits you need in order to receive disability benefits. Unless you are blind, at least 20 of these credits must have been earned in the 10-year period that ended with the onset of your disability:
|Age when |
|Number of credits|
|31 - 42||20|
|62 or older||40|
How much in disability insurance benefits you can expect to receive is shown on your Social Security Statement. You can request a Statement at the SSA Web site. If you prefer, you can also download a request form and mail it to the address on the form.
When you reach full retirement age, you become eligible to receive basic retirement benefits from the Social Security system. (Beginning in 2003, the eligible age to receive full retirement benefits is gradually rising from age 65 to age 67.) When you are eligible to receive full benefits, your disability benefits amount will be converted to retirement benefits.
The above information is educational and should not be interpreted as financial advice. For advice that is specific to your circumstances, see the Web site of the Social Security Administration or call at (800) 772-1213.