Questions About Getting Started with Disability

The following article provides answers to the questions we get asked the most by people who have recently become disabled or who are exploring their next steps after Workers’ Comp or another form of disability insurance is coming to an end.

Am I eligible to receive Social Security Disability Benefits?

You may be eligible if: (1) you have paid enough into Social Security and (2) if you meet their definition of disability.

  1. To qualify for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), you need to have paid enough into Social Security. Per the SSA (Social Security Administration) “you must have worked long enoughand recently enough1.
    SSA determines this with “Work Credits”, aka “Social Security credits”, aka “Quarters of coverage” (QC), aka “Quarters”. They’re called “Quarters” because you can earn up to 4 per year.
    In 2021, you earn one Work Credit for every $1,470 you make (again, up to 4/yr). It will increase in 2022 to $1,510.
    Let’s break down how many Work Credits you need:
    1. The Recent Work Test. Per SSA, “The number of credits necessary to meet the recent work test depends on your age. The rules are as follows:” 2
      • Before age 24 – You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
      • Age 24 to 31 – In general, you may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. As a general example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
      • Age 31 or older – In general, you must have at least 20 credits in the 10-year period immediately before you become disabled. 2
    2. The Duration Work Test. This is how they determine if you’ve paid enough into Social Security to qualify as insured. You need to have acquired at least this many Work Credits total, regardless of timing.
Age you become disabled:You will generally need to have worked:Equivalent Work Credits:
Before age 42Meet the Recent Work Test (see “a.” above)
Age 445.5 years22
Age 466 years24
Age 486.5 years26
Age 507 years28
Age 527.5 years30
Age 548 years32
Age 568.5 years34
Age 589 years36
Age 609.5 years38
Data from Social Security Administration, Retirement Benefits, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/credits.html2

  1. You must meet their definition of disability based on the 5 following questions:
    1. Are you working? You may qualify if you are either no longer working or are you making less than the “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) amount. For 2021, this is an average of $1,310 per month, however there are exceptions, which Attorney Balin talks about here. For 2022, the new SGA will be $1,350
    2. Is your condition “severe”? Per the SSA, “Your condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work-related activities, such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering – for at least 12 months. If it does not, we will find that you are not disabled.”1 Note: this rule does not mean you have to wait 12 months to file, rather your condition just needs to be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
    3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? Here is the SSA’s list of medical conditions that they “consider severe enough that it prevents a person from doing substantial gainful activity”1. We go more in depth into the most common disabling conditions here. You can absolutely still qualify if your condition is not on this list, but it can be more difficult to prove your case. We recommend having a lawyer with experience winning these kinds of cases; contact us for a free consultation.
    4. Can you do the work you did previously?
    5. Can you do any other type of work? Per SSA, “If you can’t do the work you did in the past, we look to see if there is other work you could do despite your medical impairment(s).”1

I don’t have enough Work Credits or they’re not recent enough, but I still need financial help. Can I still get any help from Social Security?

Yes, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which are income-based benefits with no work history requirement. SSI benefits can be paid to disabled adults and children.

The SSA lists the following requirements for qualify for monthly SSI payments:

  • Are at least age 65 or blind or disabled.
  • Have limited income (wages, pensions, etc.).
  • Have limited resources (the things you own).
  • Are U.S. citizens, nationals of the U.S., or some noncitizens.
  • Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. Exception: The children of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty outside the U.S. and certain students temporarily abroad may receive SSI payments outside the U.S.

The maximum monthly benefit under SSI for 2021 is $794. This will increase to $841 per month in 2022.

I’m in my 60’s. Can I get Social Security Disability benefits or do I have to take early retirement?

If you have not yet reached full Retirement age4, you can absolutely still get disability benefits! We highly recommend you look into Disability benefits first and urge you to avoid taking your retirement benefits early.

If you start collecting your Retirement early you will be stuck with the same reduced benefit forever. Per SSA, “A worker can choose to retire as early as age 62, but doing so may result in a reduction of as much as 30 percent.”3 This reduction is permanent, so the obvious choice is to put off collecting Retirement for as long as possible.

“If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.”

Social Security Administration, Disability Benefits | How You Qualify, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/qualify.html 1

Another advantage to SSDI over early retirement is Family Benefits. If you’re approved for Disability, your spouse and children can receive additional benefits as well. We offer a deep dive on SSDI Family Benefits here.

A potential benefit to consider are Delayed Retirement Credits. If you think there is a chance that you might be able to go back to work full-time before reaching full retirement age, you could significantly and permanently increase your monthly retirement benefits. So if you think you may go back to work for a few more years after you recover, definitely hold off on taking that retirement money early.

How long does it take to start getting benefits?

Under most circumstances, you should expect it to take at least a few months. First, getting approved for benefits can take several months. If approved, you do not receive any benefits for the first 5 months that you are disabled. The sixth month of being disabled is the first month you can receive benefits for.

If you are approved in that timeframe, you will not physically receive that check until the following month, which would be 7 months from when you became disabled. 5

There are some instances that might meet dire need criteria, where a disability case can be expedited and where the 5-month waiting period does not apply. For example, the 5 month waiting period no longer applies to those with ALS.

Conclusion

We know there’s a lot of information here. There are many exceptions, if’s, and but’s. If you have any questions, contact us! We’re here to help.

Citations

1 Social Security Administration, Disability Benefits | How You Qualify, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/qualify.html#anchor3

2 Social Security Administration, Retirement Benefits, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/credits.html#h3

3 Social Security Administration, Benefits Planner | Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/agereduction.html

4 Social Security Administration, Retirement Age Calculator, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/ageincrease.html

5 Social Security Administration, Disability Benefits | You’re Approved, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/approval.html

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