A sticky note that says Social Security

Frequently Asked Questions Have more questions about disability benefits? We have answers.

How much disability money will I get?

It's impossible to answer this question without reviewing your complete work history, medical evidence, and household income. That said, a lawyer will charge you $0 to review your potential claim and tell you which program might award you benefits. This consultation is always free, and you don't have to do anything else. Deciding whether to use the same attorney or even move forward with your disability claim is always up to you!

How do they calculate my monthly disability payment?

The SSA uses your monthly job income from your 10 highest-earning work years to calculate your SSDI benefit pay amount. First, they'll examine your tax records over a 35-year work history to find 10 years you earned the highest wages. Then, they'll average those wages and adjust that amount for current inflation. For most people, Social Security disability benefits equal about 40% of your average monthly paycheck before you stopped working.

If you receive SSI instead of SSDI, then you cannot receive more than a set amount in monthly disability benefits. You can see this year's maximum SSI pay amount for individuals and couples on the SSA's website.

Where do disability benefits come from?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages 2 different disability programs that pay monthly benefits to people who qualify:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – Nearly every worker in the U.S. pays into this program with every paycheck. FICA taxes, also known as Social Security taxes, provide federal disability insurance coverage through the SSA's trust fund. This trust fund pays disability benefits to people unable to work for health reasons before they reach full retirement age. Only people who've worked recently and enough years in jobs while paying FICA taxes can qualify for monthly SSDI payments. Your SSDI benefit amount is 100% determined by your past work income, adjusted for current inflation.
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – If you haven't worked recently or enough years to qualify for SSDI, then you may qualify for SSI. SSI pays a set amount in benefits each month to eligible claimants who are blind, disabled, or aged 65+. However, you must also have very little income and almost no savings or assets to qualify for SSI. Things like child support, alimony or living with relatives rent-free can make you ineligible for SSI. Payments from this program come out of the federal government's general tax funds.
How can I afford a disability lawyer with no income?

Every lawyer in our network offers contingency-based help with disability applications. In other words, you pay $0 in legal fees until after the SSA awards you benefits. Federal law says your attorney cannot charge more than 25% of your lump-sum back benefits, or $7,200 (whichever amount is lower). The most recent SSA data available shows most people approved for SSDI paid about $3,300 in legal fees during the past year. This means they also received at least $13,000 in backpay in addition to those monthly benefits. However, the SSA also must approve any legal fees you owe for your case before your attorney receives a payment. This ensures you pay nothing out of your own pocket and keeps lawyers from charging any surprise fees.

Can I get short-term or temporary disability benefits?

Not from the federal government or Social Security Administration. Less than 10 U.S. states offer temporary or short-term disability for eligible residents. In New York, for example, you can get no more than $170/week in disability for a few months.

How long will it take to get my first payment?

In most cases, it takes about 6 months (171 days, on average, in the past year)for the SSA to review your disability claim. If your initial claim's approved, the soonest you can get your first payment is 7 months from your application date. Should the SSA deny your first claim and you win disability benefits on appeal, that process takes 1-3 years.

Can I get disability if I'm still working?

The first thing the SSA looks at is whether you're earning more than a certain amount of money through work. Then, they'll check to see if you have a medical issue that prevents you from working for at least a year. If you're still workingwhen you apply, there's essentially zero chance the SSA will award you disability benefits.

Can I get disability if I'm pregnant, having major surgery, need time off to care for a sick parent/child or broke a bone?

No. Both federal programs only pay disability benefits for long-term or permanent health issues lasting one year or longer. If you can go back to work again in less than 12 months, then the SSA automatically denies your claim. In addition, caretaking duties don't count as a disability since they don't physically prevent you from working in any job.

Why do I need a lawyer to get benefits if I'm really disabled?

The SSA may award disability benefits to some people without attorney representation. However, statistics show it's less than 1 in 10 applicants. Today, the SSA approves just 31% of people who apply for disability benefits. That's less than 1 in 3 claimants! However, data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows you're 2.9x more likely to get benefits with professional legal help.

Here are some examples of when you likely don't need a lawyer to get disability benefits:

  • You were born blind or recently lost your ability to see in both eyes.
  • Your doctor recently diagnosed you with a terminal illness, such as stage 4 pancreatic cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease.
  • You were in an accident that resulted in the loss of 2 different limbs at once.
  • If you drop a pencil on the floor, you cannot pick it up yourself without help.
  • You cannot walk across a room or up/down steps without using a mobility device or needing assistance.
  • You need dialysis for end-stage renal failure (ESRD) or require a kidney transplant.
Will my benefits go up if my symptoms get worse/my doctor finds something else that's wrong with me, health-wise?

No. The following things have no impact on how much disability money you get each month:

  • How much pain you're in.
  • Your symptoms getting better or worse.
  • The number of health problems you have.
  • How much you pay each month for bills, housing, food, transportation, or medications.
  • Which state you live in or moving from one state to another.
  • Your doctor diagnosing you with a new mental or physical illness/injury.
Will I get denied disability because of my spouse/partner's income?

The SSA only looks at your individual income when you apply for Social Security disability benefits. So, if you're applying for SSDI, it doesn't matter how much money your partner, spouse or roommate earns each month. However, if you apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your entire household's income counts as if it were just yours. This is because the government created SSI to help only the lowest-income people who are blind, disabled, or aged 65+.

Can you just mail me a paper application to fill out?

No. The application for disability benefits is not just one claim form. As of this writing, you need to fill out 3 different claim forms totaling at least 17 pages each. One of the forms changes depending on whether you have a mental or physical impairment. And the SSA doesn't make them all available to download from the internet for you to print at home. So, even if we mailed paper copies of some forms, they might not be the right ones for you.

Can I get disability if I already draw regular Social Security?

No. Congress created disability benefits to help people who must stop working for health reasons before reaching their normal retirement age. If you already get any monthly benefits listed below from Social Security, then you cannot qualify for SSDI:

  • Early retirement benefits you started drawing sometime after your 62nd birthday.
  • Spousal benefits totaling more than you qualify for in monthly SSDI based on your own earnings record.
  • Survivor's benefits that pay more each month than you might otherwise qualify for in disability based on your work history.
  • SSI payments (i.e., the SSA didn't award you SSDI when you initially applied because you don't have enough work credits/history).
If I'm getting SSI now, can I also get Social Security disability?

No. In 99% of cases, the SSA reviews your disability application for both programs when you apply (SSDI and SSI). If you currently receive SSI, that means you medically qualify as disabled, but failed to meet the non-medical SSDI requirements.

How do I know if my health problem qualifies for disability?

Your health problem is just one of several things the SSA looks at when evaluating your claim:

  1. Your current monthly job wages to ensure it's below this year's income limit.
  2. If your health problems are severe enough to prevent you from working full-time.
  3. Proof your health problems will last at least 12 months or should result in your death.
  4. Review your work history to determine if you can go back to an old full-time job.
  5. Your age, educational background, and work experience to determine if any full-time job would hire you.

So, it's possible they could deny you disability benefits even if your health issue medically qualifies. In other words, there's no way to know if you qualify for disability benefits based one specific health problem.

I got a letter saying I medically qualify but can't get benefits because of a “technical denial.” What does that mean?

A technical denial can mean a few things. Did you make a mistake when filling out your claim paperwork or leave a required field blank? That can make the SSA reject your application. Stapling pages together or writing in the margins can result in your claim's technical denial. The other major reason for a technical denial is you failed to meet the age, work history, or residency requirements.

You must meet these non-medical (i.e., “technical”) eligibility requirements for SSDI:

  • Most Social Security disability applicants must have 40 work credits to qualify. In other words, you worked at least 5 in the last 10 years full-time while paying Social Security payroll taxes. Once you stop working for 5+ years, you stop paying into the system and your SSDI coverage automatically ends.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident working and paying into the Social Security system. If you don't have a Green Card or are working illegally as a non-resident alien, then you cannot qualify for SSDI. If you don't work full-time in jobs with FICA or Social Security payroll taxes, you also cannot qualify for SSDI. Workers that typically can't qualify for SSDI benefits include Uber/Lyft drivers, Realtors, teachers, firefighters, police officers, independent contractors, and federal employees.
  • Only working-age applicants not currently drawing any Social Security benefits may qualify for SSDI. If you currently receive early retirement, then you cannot get Social Security disability. This also means the SSA already permanently reduced your retirement benefits for life. If you're aged 66, 67 or older and getting regular Social Security, then you also cannot qualify for SSDI. That's because SSDI acts much like an “early withdrawal” system for your Social Security benefits paid at the full amount before you reach normal retirement age.
Can I get disability benefits for life?

No, since your monthly SSDI payments convert into regular Social Security once you reach normal retirement age. This happens automatically, and you don't need to do anything or file additional paperwork. The best part is your monthly benefit amount won't change and the SSA direct-deposits those payments into your bank account.

If you receive SSI disability, you can keep those payments after you turn 65. However, you must also still meet the program's low income and financial asset requirements. To ensure you still qualify, the SSI program will ask to review your financial records once every 3-5 years.

Can kids or spouses get disability?

The SSDI program pays family benefits to eligible spouses and children of disabled workers. Your husband or wife may receive up to 50% of your monthly SSDI payment in spousal benefits. If you have children, they can also receive a dependent benefit. Each family can receive no more than 150%-180% of your individual monthly SSDI payment in total benefits. These same rules apply to same-sex married couples and their eligible children.

A disabled child younger than 22 cannot receive SSDI benefits on their own. This is because the SSDI program doesn't pay benefits to anyone without sufficient work history.

The SSI program cannot pay disability benefits to spouses or children of current beneficiaries. It only awards disability payments to individuals, not families.

To learn more, read the SSA's Benefits for Children with Disabilities pamphlet.