Social Security Disability (SSDI) pays benefits to eligible individuals who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or results in death.

Qualifying for SSDI

In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet both an earning and disability requirement.

Because SSDI pulls from money acquired via payroll taxes, to receive benefits you must have worked jobs where you paid into Social Security payroll taxes (FICA) over a period of time. This is known as an earning requirement.

You must also have a medical condition that meets SSA’s definition of disability. Social Security pays only for total disability, defined by your inability to work. SSA considers you disabled if you (1) cannot do the work that you did before and (2) decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Additionally, your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

Children under the age of 18 are not eligible for SSD, but may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income instead, depending on family income.

Some adults over the age of 18, but who were disabled before the age of 22, may be eligible for child’s benefits – paid on a parent’s Social Security earnings record – if a parent is deceased or starts receiving retirement or disability benefits. These beneficiaries must be unmarried.

All beneficiaries undergo the same medical disability assessment.

Receiving Benefits

If your application is approved, you will receive your first Social Security benefit either on the sixth full month after the date SSA finds that your disability began or the first month after your approval (if your approval takes longer than five months.) However, Social Security benefits are paid in the month after which they’re due.

Benefits usually continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis. There are also a number of special rules called work incentives that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help you make the transition back to work if you are able.

If you are receiving SSDI benefits when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits. The amount remains the same.

Your Medicare benefits (Part A and B) will begin 29 months after the onset date, or 24 months after you receive your first benefit check.

The amount of your monthly disability benefit will vary depending on your average lifetime earnings. The Social Security Statement you receive each year displays your lifetime earnings and provides an estimate of your disability benefit based on a weighted formula of the amount of taxes you have paid over the years. It also includes estimates of retirement and survivors benefits that you or your family may be eligible to receive in the future.