Do You Qualify for Disability or SSI?
Most people are aware that the Social Security Administration is a part of the federal government and that it pays older, retired people monthly checks. What you may not realize, however, is that the Social Security Administration also issues monthly checks to disabled children and disabled adults less than 62 years of age. Currently, there are two main disability programs: SSDI and SSI.
Title II SSDI Disability vs. Title XVI SSI vs. Social Security Retirement
SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) is a disability program that pays you a cash benefit based on your earnings record. When you were working, your employer withheld a portion of your salary to cover your payroll taxes. Part of this withheld money went to the Social Security Administration where it was credited to your account. This account will be used to determine how much you receive when you reach retirement age, and/or how much you receive if you become disabled.
- Interestingly, you will most likely receive far more money from Social Security than what you pay in. How much you get out is based on a formula that accounts for the cost of living and inflation.
Social Security Retirement Basics
When you reach retirement age, you become eligible for Social Security retirement. For retirement Social Security you don’t have to prove anything other than your age. This website is not about retirement Social Security but you should be aware that there are strategies available to you to maximize your Social Security retirement based on the age you choose to start your Social Security, and, to some degree on when your spouse starts his or her Social Security. If you are 60 years of age or older, it would be wise to talk to your tax adviser or a Social Security consultant for advice about retirement planning.
Social Security Disability Insurance
If you become disabled prior to retirement age (age 62), you can apply for Social Security disability. Unlike Social Security retirement, you are not automatically eligible. You (and your lawyer) have to prove that you meet Social Security’s definition of disability. This website is designed to help you understand more about the Social Security disability process.
SSDI operates kind of like an insurance policy – you are eligible for benefits only if your insurance premiums are paid. In the case of SSDI, your insurance premiums are paid in the form of contributions to your earnings record. However – and this is a big “however” – SSDI does not look at your lifetime earnings record. Instead, it looks at your earnings record for the 10 year period prior to the onset date of your disability (if you are younger than 30 the lookback will be slightly less than 10 years).
As a general rule, you have to show that you worked and paid into the system for approximately 5 out of the last 10 years. The earnings credit calculations get a little complicated but the 5 out of 10 concept is a good rule of thumb. More specifically, your attorney will want to identify your date last insured (DLI) for Title II SSDI benefits. If you have worked regularly up to a certain date, your insurance coverage will extend around 5 years after you stop working. If your last few years of work were not consistent, your DLI may be less than 5 years out.
- If you apply for benefits without an attorney ask the SSA representative to provide you your date last insured for SSDI. Your attorney can also find your DLI electronically.
It is vitally important that you and your lawyer know your date last insured for SSDI. If you hope to collect based on your earnings record, your disability must have begun before your date last insured. If your disability began after your DLI, then you would only be eligible for SSI and, as we shall see, SSI payments are usually a lot less than SSDI and they are subject to offsets for household income and assets you may own.
The amount you collect from SSDI will depend on your earnings record but our experience has been that most SSDI claimants collect between $1,000 and $2,500 per month. By contrast SSI beneficiaries can only collect a statutory amount – for 2016 the maximum benefit is $733 per month before any offset reductions.
Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI SSI)
If you have never worked, or if you have not worked enough within the past 10 years to qualify for SSDI, you can still collect disability benefits, but only from the SSI program. Title XVI SSI serves low income disabled persons who don’t have an earnings record. The standard for disability is the same but the benefit amount will almost always be lower.
More importantly, SSI benefits are subject to numerous reductions (called offsets). The biggest offset is usually the household income offset. If your spouse works and earns even a modest salary, that salary will cancel your eligibility for SSI. If you get financial help from your family, that assistance can offset your SSI. If you own certain property or have more than a few thousand dollars of cash, that will offset your SSI.
Unfortunately, most disability lawyers have had more than a few sad conversations with honest, hardworking potential clients who worked regularly for 20 years but who are not insured for SSDI because they last worked 10+ years ago. They may be disabled now but they cannot collect either SSDI (not insured) or SSI (because of spouse’s salary).
If you are eligible for SSI, the amount you will receive is set by the government. For 2016, the most you could receive is $733 per month. This amount may or may not change in years to come.
Don’t Assume Anything, Even if You Hear it Directly from Social Security
If you believe that you may meet the medical definition of disability but you are concerned that you may or may not qualify for SSDI or SSI, you should not assume the worst. For example, you may not be insured now, but if your disability began before your coverage ran out, you can still collect SSDI. Social Security employees sometimes don’t understand how these date calculations work and they may give out incorrect information.
We invite you to reach out to us using the form on this page and we would be happy to help you understand which benefits apply in your case.