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Everything You Need to Know about SSDI

If you have a disability that keeps you from doing certain work-related activities, you need to know about Social Security Disability Insurance. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a government program that allows individuals to access their Social Security benefits early. However, you will need to meet certain requirements to qualify and not everyone who applies will be accepted.

Social Security disability application status

What are the Social Security Disability requirements?

While there are some exceptions, there are generally four basic Social Security Disability requirements:


You cannot qualify for SSDI unless you have a disability that meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of the term. Generally speaking, the SSA defines disabilities as conditions that “significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering – for at least 12 months.” For a full list of conditions that qualify, consult the SSA Disabilities List.


As of 2020, you cannot earn more than $1,260 from gainful employment per month to qualify for SSDI. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t earn income from other sources. SSDI does not factor in your spouse’s income, investments, savings, or any other financial assets.

Work History

SSDI requires applicants to accumulate up to 40 work credits, 20 of which must have been attained within the last 10 years. You can earn up to 4 credits per year, with one credit accumulated per $1,410 of earned income (as of 2020). However, the number of credits required for SSDI also depends on your age. 

For example, if you become disabled at age 28, you would only need about 1.5 years of work history (or 6 work credits) to qualify. At 50, you would likely need 7 years of work history (or 28 work credits). Generally, if you are 60 or older, you will need 10 years of work history (about 40 credits). Regardless of age, no one is required to have more than 40 work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance. You can learn more about SSDI work requirements on the Social Security Credits Page.


Finally, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify for SSDI. Some foreign workers can also qualify, depending on the type of visa and the duration of their work contract. Generally, as long as you are legally allowed to work in the U.S. and have paid taxes into the Social Security system, you have the chance to qualify.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay; medical bills; statute of limitations for medical bills

Ask an Expert!

If you’ve got questions about Social Security, our friends at JustAnswer have attorneys available to answer those questions. Chat with a Social Security lawyer now!

What are the Social Security Disability benefits?

Social Security Disability Insurance provides monthly payments to disabled individuals and their families. The amount received is based on your previous income and is therefore unique for every applicant. As of 2020, the average SSDI beneficiary received somewhere between $1,200-$1,300 per month.

How to calculate SSDI payments

The SSDI formula is complex. It uses the income on which you’ve paid taxes to determine how much you will get each month, up to the maximum of $3,011 (as of 2020). These are known as your “covered earnings.” You can see your own covered earnings by checking your annual Social Security Statement

Your payout, also known as your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), is calculated by using your average income over a set period of time. Your PIA is determined much like your income taxes, but you are getting money from the government instead of paying money to the government. In 2020, you will get 90% of your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) up to $960, plus 32% of your AIME between $960 and $5,785, plus 15% of your AIME over $5,785, up to a maximum total of $3,011. 

For example, let’s say that you earned an average of $4,000 per month over the 10 years prior to becoming disabled. Here’s how you can calculate the *approximate amount you will get from SSDI:

  • 90% of $960 = $864
  • 32% of $3,040 ($4,000 – $960) = $972.80
  • 15% of $0 = $0
  • Total: $864 + $972.80 + $0 = $1,836.80

*It’s important to note that this is an approximate calculation. The final amount you receive may vary based on other disability benefits you receive.

What other disability benefits can I receive? 

In addition to Social Security Disability Insurance, the federal government also provides Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for some disabled individuals. The medical requirements are the same, so if your condition qualifies for SSDI, it also qualifies for SSI. That said, SSDI and SSI have different requirements related to work and income.

With SSDI, you must have accumulated a certain number of work credits to qualify. SSI does not have this requirement. Instead, SSI is reserved for disabled individuals or families with additional financial needs. For individuals, you must earn more no more than $783 per month to qualify. For couples, the amount is $1,175 (as of 2020).

These numbers vary by year, but they also refer to the average amount you can expect to receive. On average, individuals can get up to $783 per month from SSI, while couples can get up to $1,175 per month. These numbers also vary by state, as some states offer additional income to supplement the federal program.

Can I get both SSDI and SSI?

In short, yes. You can receive SSDI and SSI benefits at the same time. However, the benefits you get from one program will affect the other. For example, your Social Security Disability Insurance check will likely be smaller if you’re also receiving a check for SSI. Similarly, some or all of your SSDI check may be factored into the calculation for your SSI benefits, resulting in a lower amount from SSI.

public housing application

How to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to apply for SSDI benefits. You have three options:

  • Apply online through the SSA website
  • Apply at your local Social Security Administration office
  • Call the SSA directly at 1-800-772-1213

No matter how you apply, it will take some time for the SSA to process your application. This is why we recommend applying for SSDI and/or SSI as soon as you become disabled. The longer you delay applying, the longer you will have to wait to receive any benefits. 

The SSA may reach out to you with any questions or for further documentation during the application process. Otherwise, the SSA will simply evaluate your application, work history, and income to ensure that you qualify before calculating your monthly payout. Then, you will need to wait for a letter in the mail telling you if your application was accepted or denied. 

If your application is denied, you can (and should) appeal the decision. Many people attempt to start the application over from scratch, but this takes far longer and may not yield the results you want. So, you should appeal a denied SSDI application as soon as possible.

Bottom Line

Social Security Disability Insurance provides individuals and families with the necessary funds to live in the wake of an injury or debilitating condition. Though it’s not the only way to get disability benefits, it is the most common program for disabled people. Even if you don’t qualify for SSDI, you can also look for assistance from Supplemental Security Income. 

If you’ve already applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and are waiting for your results, be sure to consult our guide on how to check your SSDI application status!

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy. You can check out his blog at Philosophy in Film.


Friday 22nd of January 2021

Im 45 years old no dependent and recieving ssdi How many hours can I work in a month, year or hourly on SSDI before my state insurance is affected or ends??

Hannah Benge

Friday 29th of January 2021

So, your insurance is affected by how much you make. As discussed in the post, it's not based on hours, but rather on how much you make. -Hannah