What kinds of Social Security disability benefits might I qualify for?
Learn about the requirements for eligibility for Social Security Disability, and about the three groups of people who may qualify.
Three Groups of Disabled People May Qualify for Benefits
Three different groups of people may meet the requirements for eligibility for Social Security disability benefits: disabled workers, disabled adult children who become disabled before age twenty-two, and disabled surviving spouses (widows, widowers, and certain divorced surviving spouses).
Disability Benefits for Disabled Workers
The first type of Social Security disability benefit and the most common is paid to disabled workers who have enough work credits, part of which are recent, to be insured for Social Security Disability. The older you are, the more credits you need to be fully insured and currently insured.
Social Security work credits are called quarters of coverage. Four quarters of coverage can be earned each year by working and paying Social Security taxes on wages or on self-employment profit. The amount of earnings needed to earn one quarter of coverage usually changes annually. In 2017, the amount is $1,300.
Most wages and salaries are subject to Social Security taxes. If you see FICA taxes as a withholding on your pay stub, you and your employer are paying Social Security taxes, which insure you for retirement benefits and disability benefits and may insure your dependents and survivors. If you are self-employed, net profit of $400 more a year is subject requires you to pay self-employment taxes, which give you quarters of coverage when you file your tax return.
The number of work credits required and when you have to earn the credits depends on your age when you become disabled. Because disability benefits for disabled workers are intended to partially replace earnings lost due to disability, a disabled worker age thirty-one or older must have earned part of the credits recently, specifically, the worker must have earned at least half of the possible amount of work credits in the ten years before becoming disabled. Stated another way, he or she must have earned twenty out of forty possible quarters of coverage in the ten years before disability begins. Workers who are younger than thirty-one, must have earned half of the possible quarters between when they turned age twenty-one and when they became disabled with a minimum of six work credits required. For example, a person who becomes disabled at age twenty-seven would need twelve quarters (half of the twenty-four possible in the six years between ages twenty-one and twenty-seven.) If a person becomes disabled before age twenty-one, the six-credit minimum applies.
The monthly benefit amount for disabled workers is based on lifetime earnings and can range from a couple hundred dollars to $2,687 in 2017. If the worker’s Social Security Disability (SSD aka SSDI) benefit is less than $755 in 2017, he or she may be eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income disability benefits as well. (Some states pay an SSI state supplement that allows slightly higher income.)
Disability Benefits for Disabled Widows and Widowers and Disabled Surviving Divorced Spouses
The second type of disability benefit is paid to widows and widowers who become disabled within a certain time frame and either have not remarried or meet the requirements to be eligible despite remarriage.
To be eligible, the deceased worker had to have worked enough paying Social Security taxes to insure his or her family for survivor benefits. Additionally, the surviving spouse or divorced spouse must have become disabled within seven years of the death of the wage earner or within seven years of last being entitled to young spouse’s or young surviving spouse’s benefits due to having a child under age sixteen in his or her care.
Disabled surviving divorced spouses who were married to an insured worker for more than ten years are eligible under the same rules as widows and widowers. It is interesting to note that a benefits paid to a disabled surviving divorced spouse will be paid outside the family maximum benefit and, as such, will not affect the amount of benefits paid to other people eligible for benefits on the same worker’s record.
Remarriage after disability onset and at age fifty or older will not disqualify a person from receiving disabled surviving spouse benefits.
The disabled surviving spouse’s benefit amount is 71.5% of the lesser of the amount the worker would have received at full retirement or the amount that the worker was actually receiving at death. This compares to 100% of the worker’s benefits for a person who applies for surviving spouse’s benefits at full retirement age.
Disability Benefits for Disabled Adult Children
The third and last group of people who may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits are disabled adult children of an insured worker who is receiving Social Security benefits or is deceased. These Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) are paid to disabled adult children who become disabled prior to age twenty-two and, with few exceptions, are unmarried. (Marriage will not disqualify a person for CDB if the marriage is to someone receiving Social Security benefits other than children’s benefits paid based on age and/or student status.) Because a disabled adult child who became disabled as a child or youth and remains disabled may be much older than twenty-two when their parents begin to receive Social Security or die, it is a good idea to collect and store medical records from the years prior to age twenty-two. If the illness or injury has the potential for improvement or recovery, it is also a good idea to keep collect and keep medical records ongoing.
To determine eligibility for any of the types of Social Security disability benefits, contact the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213, visiting a Social Security office, or starting a claim online at www.ssa.gov, or contact an experienced Social Security attorney to help you file a disability claim.
More information about filing a Social Security Disability application is available in our articles When Should I File My Social Security Disability Application? and How Do I File an Application for Social Security Disability Benefits? For information on how Social Security attorneys get paid, see our article How Do Social Security Disability Attorneys Get Paid for Representing You in Your Disability Claim?
Understanding Social Security Disability (SSD)—An Overview of the Basics
Social Security Disability Requirements: How to Qualify for SSD
Social Security Disability Insurance: A Complete Guide
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