When an individual becomes disabled, the first step to receiving benefits is to learn which Social Security disability benefits may be available. It is common for disability applicants to confuse “SSI benefits” with “SSDI benefits”, but these disability benefits are actually two distinct programs offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). To add to the confusion, SSDI is also called by other names: Disability Insurance Benefits, Title II Disability, Social Security Disability Insurance.
You Must Meet the SSA's Definition of "Disabled"
For either Social Security disability program, the individual must prove that they meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled.” For adults, the SSA defines “disabled” as “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death” or last for at least 12 continuous months.
SSDI benefits are available to individuals who have not reached full retirement age. (You can calculate your full retirement age here.) In addition, SSDI benefits are for individuals who are not working full-time. In 2021, if an individual is working and earning more than $1,310 gross income per month, then they will not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. (The monthly amount for other years can be found here.)
What Are Work Credits?
In addition to having a disability that meets Social Security’s definition, eligibility for this program is based primarily on work credits accumulated through paying Social Security taxes (also called FICA) while working. The Social Security taxes are much like an insurance premium that provides coverage if the worker becomes disabled.
A work credit is earned each time a worker achieves a certain income amount (which changes every year) and a worker can earn up to four work credits per year. In 2021, a worker earns one credit for each $1,470 in wages or self-employment income and earns all four credits for the year by earning $5,880. In general, an individual need 40 credits to be eligible for SSDI. Also, the worker typically needs to have 20 credits within the ten years ending with the year the worker became unable to work. When someone stops working, their work credits eventually expire and they lose coverage of SSDI benefits. To qualify for SSDI eligibility, the disabled worker must show that they became disabled before these work credits expire.
If an individual works for an employer who is exempted from paying FICA taxes on your behalf (these are typically government employers), or if an individual is a contractor and has not made these payments, then the individual might not have enough work credits, even despite working for many years. A person who does not have enough work credits, might still be eligible for other Social Security benefit programs.
Who Else Can Benefit from Work Credits?
It is important to know that SSDI benefits may also be available to the spouses of deceased workers. If an individual never worked, but their deceased spouse has earned enough work credits, then they may qualify for this program. However, there are specific requirements: 1) the surviving spouse must be between the ages of 50 to 60 years old, 2) the surviving spouse meets the SSA’s definition of disability, and 3) the surviving spouse’s disability started before or within 7 years of the worker’s death.
SSDI benefits may also be available to the children of deceased, disabled, or retired workers. For a disabled child to receive SSDI benefits based on their parent’s work history, they must show that their disability started before age 22 and that they meet the definition of disability for adults. In addition, the “adult child” must be unmarried, age 18 or older, and have a disability that started before age 22. There is no requirement that the child has ever worked. Rather, the child is drawing SSDI benefits from their parent’s work history.
Under special circumstances, other family members may also be eligible:
- A stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, adopted child,
- Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support,
- The divorced spouse of a worker who dies, could get benefits provided that 1) the marriage to the worker lasted 10 years or more, or 2) the ex-spouse is caring for a child who is a natural or legally adopted child who is either age 16 or disabled and receiving benefits on the record of the former spouse. If the divorced spouse remarries after age 60 (50 if disabled), this remarriage will not affect eligibility for survivors' benefits.
Keller & Keller's Social Security Lawyers Can Assist with Your SSDI Claim
If you have applied or are thinking about applying for Social Security disability benefits, contact Keller & Keller today for a free consultation. Call us at 1-800-253-5537.