Like most people, you probably don’t expect to become disabled. However, one in four 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. As a result, many Americans will rely on Social Security benefits for financial support.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers two programs to aid those who have disabilities. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays out benefits to individuals under full retirement age, no matter how much they make. Whereas, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to qualified individuals with limited income. Everything you need to know about the SSDI program is discussed here.

To qualify for benefits, you must meet a strict definition of disability

Because SSA requirements are strict, it’s challenging to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. According to the SSA, you must have a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or is likely to result in your death to qualify.

Additionally, your impairment must be severe enough to prevent you from performing any “substantial gainful activity.” “Substantial gainful activity” typically means that you can no longer complete both the work you were doing when you became disabled and any other work.

The SSA has a list of impairments that they consider severe and automatically define you as disabled. If your condition is not on the list, the SSA will decide if your situation is severe enough.

The SSA will consider your ability to work by assessing your medical condition, age, education, past work experience, and transferable skills. If you’re currently employed, the SSA will also take your income into account.

If you make more than the maximum benefit amount, you may not be considered disabled by SSA standards. But, if you’re blind, special rules and income limits apply.

You’ll also need sufficient work credits to qualify

To qualify for Social Security benefits, you must work and pay Social Security taxes. By doing so, you earn credits that enable you to be eligible for Social Security benefits. You can earn up to four credits per year, depending on your income and work status. The number of credits you need depends on how old you are when you become disabled.

For instance, if you’re age 31 to 42, you’ll need to have earned 20 credits within the last ten years, ending with the year in which you became disabled. If you’re younger than 31, you’ll need fewer credits; if you’re older than 42, you’ll need more.

Your family members don’t need work credits

If you qualify for disability benefits, individual family members can also collect monthly disability benefits based on your work record. Eligible family members may include:

· Your spouse age 62 or older, if you have been married at least one year

· Your former spouse age 62 or older if you were married for at least ten years

· Your spouse or former spouse of any age, if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled

· Your children under age 18, if unmarried

· Your children under age 19, if full-time students (through grade 12) or disabled

· Your children older than 18, if severely disabled

Each eligible family member may receive a monthly check, equal to 50% of your essential benefit. This amount is in addition to your benefit, and your check doesn’t get reduced.

The amount of money that you’ll receive depends on your Social Security earnings record

Your check amount is calculated based on your average lifetime earnings. You can view your earnings record and get an estimate of how much you would receive if you were disabled right now by signing up for a My Social Security account on the SSA’s website.

Keep in mind, eligibility for other benefits you may qualify for may impact the amount of your SSDI check. The SSA will periodically assess your case and determine whether you are still disabled. If they decide otherwise, your disability benefits may stop altogether. For example, if your medical condition improves to the point that you’re no longer considered disabled or earn a substantial amount of money, your benefits may be taken away.

Lastly, once you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically convert to Social Security retirement benefits. The benefit amount of your Social Security retirement benefits is usually the same as your disability benefit check.

You should apply for benefits as soon as possible

You should apply for benefits at a Social Security office as soon as you become disabled, permitting that it appears that the disability will continue. It would help if you did this quickly because there is a five-month waiting period before receiving your first check. You can file for benefits in person, through the mail, online, or over the telephone. You must provide the following information:

· An original or certified copy of your birth certificate. If you were born in another country, you would need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency

· An original or certified copy of your military discharge papers (DD 214) if you were in the military

· A copy of your W-2 form. If you were self-employed, you would need to provide a copy of your federal tax return for the past year

· Workers compensation information, including date of injury, claim number, and payment amount

· Social Security numbers of your spouse and children

· Your checking or savings account number

· Social Security numbers of your spouse and children

· Medical and job information, including information about physicians who had treated you, names of medicines you are taking, medical records you have, and jobs you worked in during the 15 years before your disability began

Once your application is complete, your local Social Security office will review it. Then, it’s sent to your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office. There, the DDS determines if you’re considered disabled under Social Security rules. If you receive approval, you’ll receive a letter that shows your benefit amount and a start date. If you’re denied, you’ll receive a letter explaining the decision and telling you how to appeal if you disagree with it.

For more information on Social Security disability benefits, visit your local Social Security office, look at publications available on the SSA website, or call the SSA at (800) 772-1213.