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How to Qualify for Social Security Disability


If you become disabled and can no longer work at the same capacity as you could before your disability, you may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. SSD is a federal insurance program managed by the Social Security Administration and funded by payroll tax dollars.

Although many can qualify for SSD benefits, not all do, and the application process can be very complex. According to the Social Security Administration itself, SSD claims are initially denied at an annual average of 63%. This means that SSD denials are fairly common, but the appeal process makes it possible for someone who was initially denied benefits to ultimately get them.

Still, enduring the appeal process can be just as complicated as the initial application process – if not more so. It also means spending time and savings waiting for the Social Security Administration to recognize your qualification for benefits. This is why making sure you meet the qualification criteria for SSD benefits is so important when filling out your initial application.

SSD Qualification Criteria

The qualification requirements for SSD benefits are deceptively simple. First, you must have worked in a job covered by Social Security. Second, you must have a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of a disability.

That’s it – but, there’s a little more here than meets the eye.

Work Requirements for SSD Benefits

Those who paid enough into the SSD program, and did so recently, are those who may be eligible to receive benefits from it.

We previously mentioned that SSD is funded with tax dollars – those specifically come from FICA taxes, which include SSD among other Social Security insurance programs and Medicare. If you are an employee, 6.2% of your paycheck goes to FICA taxes while your employer pays an additional 6.2% for a total of 12.4%. If you are self-employed, you are responsible for paying the whole 12.4% tax yourself.

After it’s been established that you’ve worked under Social Security, you must have a certain number of work credits to complete this requirement. In most cases, a total of 40 work credits is required, with at least half that number earned within the last 10 years before applying for SSD benefits.

Work credits are earned according to your total annual income, self-employment income included. A total of four work credits can be earned each year, and the amount of money needed to earn a work credit fluctuates year to year.

In 2022, the Social Security Administration assigns a work credit for each $1,510 someone earns, meaning that someone must earn at least $6,040 to receive the maximum of four credits for that year.

Disability Requirements for SSD Benefits

Not all forms of disability qualify for SSD benefits. In fact, the Social Security Administration’s stringent requirements for a qualifying disability are the reasons why so many people are initially denied benefits.

A qualifying disability should meet the following criteria:

  • The applicant can’t work or engage in a substantial gainful activity because of their medical condition.
  • The applicant can’t do the work they did before becoming disabled or adjust to other work.
  • The applicant’s condition has persisted for longer than a year, is expected to last longer than a year, or is expected to result in death.

Importantly, the Social Security Administration doesn’t provide SSD benefits for those experiencing partial or short-term disability. You must have a total disability to qualify.

How the Social Security Administration Determines If Your Disability Qualifies

The Social Security Administration will evaluate your disability on a step-by-step basis to determine if it falls within qualifying parameters.

The steps are posed as the following questions:

  • Step 1: Are You Working? Social Security asks this question to determine your current employment and earning level with your disability. If you earn an average of $1,35 (or $2,260 if you’re blind) per month, you will probably be disqualified. If you earn below this threshold or don’t work, your application proceeds to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office, which will follow the subsequent steps.
  • Step 2: Is Your Condition “Severe”? The DDS office will evaluate the severity of your disability, which should “significantly limit your ability to do basic work-related activities, such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering” for at least 12 months, according to the Social Security Administration. If you don’t meet this requirement, you will be disqualified.
  • Step 3: If your condition is determined to interfere with basic work duties, it must also be one of the Social Security Administration’s listed impairments. If your disability isn’t listed, the DDS will determine if it’s as severe as a similar medical condition that is on the list. If so, you have a qualifying disability. If not, DDS proceeds to Step 4.
  • Step 4: Can You Do Work That You Did Previously? If DDS determines that your disability isn’t as severe as a listed qualifying disability, it will assess whether or not it prevents you from performing your previous work duties. If it doesn’t, you will be disqualified; if it does, the process proceeds to Step 5.
  • Step 5: Can You Do Another Kind of Work? If your disability prevents you from returning to your previous employment, the DDS will assess whether there are other work opportunities available that can accommodate your disability. Factors that go into this assessment are your age, education level, work experience, and transferable skills. If it’s determined that you can’t do any other kind of work, you may be approved for benefits.

Do You Need Help Qualifying for SSD Benefits?

As you can see, there are many different kinds of hurdles to overcome when you need to apply for SSD benefits. Those who attempt to undergo this process alone do so at the risk of making a mistake that can bar them from the financial support they need.

You can avoid mistakes like these and protect your chances of securing SSD benefits by having a Smolich and Smolich attorney guide you through this process. If you wish to learn more about how we can help, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation.

Reach out to us online now to get started today!