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Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits

Most of the American workforce is potentially eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if they are determined to be unable to work due to an injury. However, understanding the types of benefits available and obtaining them often requires the assistance of a qualified attorney.

First, there are two types of benefits commonly thought of as “Social Security Disability.” One is Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and the other is Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”).

SSDI is the benefit most people think of when they think of disability. It is a payment system for people who worked and paid into the Social Security system for years but who are (1) unable to continue working and (2) too young to receive Social Security retirement benefits.

SSI is a benefit for persons who are ineligible for SSDI but who are incapable of working. While both require that a person be disabled in order to receive benefits, the main difference between the two is that SSI is based on financial need whereas SSDI eligibility does not take a person’s finances into account. It is possible to receive both benefits at the same time.

SSDI requires that a person have enough “work credits” for the ten year period before applying for disability in order to be eligible. You earn one work credit for each quarter (three months) you work in a job that pays into the Social Security system. It is possible to earn up to four (4) credits per year. If a person has enough work credits, they are eligible for SSDI. If they do not, they are limited to applying for SSI.

It is important to note that eligibility for SSDI depends on how recently you paid into the system, not for how long you paid into the system. A person must have at least twenty (20) work credits for the ten years prior to applying for SSDI or roughly five of the last ten years before applying for disability.

I often hear people say, “but I paid into the system for so many years.” These contributions go towards your Social Security Retirement benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance benefits require that a person paid into the system recently. This also means that once a person stops working, there is a definite cut off point for when the can apply (date of last insured), which means a person could be eligible to apply for SSDI in one quarter but ineligible the next because they won’t have worked recently enough.


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