What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) is a monthly benefit that is provided to an individual who has been determined to be disabled before retirement age and is unable to continue working.  To qualify for this benefit, an individual must have worked at a job, in which the individual paid Social Security taxes.  An individual can earn up to four (4) credits per year, and the number of credit hours needed to receive this benefit is dependent on how old the individual is when s/he became disabled.  If an individual is disabled but does not have enough work credits to obtain SSD, and if the individual has low income and assets, then that individual may qualify for Supplemental Security Income.

For purposes of SSD, disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”  When a (non-blind) disabled individual has average monthly countable earnings of $1,170.00 or more (in 2017), he can engage in substantial gainful activity.  For blind individuals in 2017, revenues of more than $1,950.00 per month is determined to be a significant productive activity.

Individual family members may qualify for benefits on another’s work history; those family members include:

§    A spouse, if he or she is 62 years of age or older;

§    A spouse at any age, if he or she is caring for a child of the worker, who is either younger than 16 years of age or disabled;

§    An unmarried child, who is younger than 18 years of age (or 19 years of age if still in high school); or

§    An eligible child, who is 18 years of age or older, if he or she has a disability, according to the definition of disability for adults, that started before the child turned 22 years of age.

An individual is eligible to receive SSD benefits in the sixth full month after the disability began; however, SSD benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due.  To illustrate these points, if an individual’s disability is determined to have begun on April 15, his first SSD benefit will be paid for October, so the individual does not receive the first payment until November (the month following the month for which the interest is due).

Social Security Retirement and Survivors Benefits

Social Security helps by providing income for retired workers, which are known as retirement benefits, and the families of workers who die, which are known as survivors’ benefits.  The age of individual factors into the receipt of retirement benefits.  The earliest age an individual can receive retirement benefits is age 62; however, this benefit will be less than if an individual waited until his full retirement age, which depends on the individual’s year of birth.  Additionally, individuals can wait until age 70 to apply for retirement benefits that will be more than the amount of the interest received at full retirement age.

When a worker dies, individual members of his family may be eligible to receive survivors’ benefits, and those family members include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children, and dependent parents.

Retirement and survivors’ benefits are like SSD in that an individual must work and pay Social Security taxes, thus earning credits toward his Social Security benefit.  The number of years that an individual need to work for his family members to be eligible for survivors benefits when he dies depends upon his age at his death; while the number of years that an individual need to work to receive retirement benefits depend on the year in which the worker was born.  For individuals that were born in 1929 or later, an individual needs 40 credits, which is equivalent to 10 years of work to qualify.  No one needs more than ten years of work to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.  If an individual does not have the required number of credits, the Social Security Administration will not pay any retirement benefits.