How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

In this article...
  • The Social Security Administration pays Social Security Disability Benefits to individuals who are disabled and unable to work. Find out details about individual programs.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits for people with disabilities in two primary ways: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While these federal programs are distinct in many ways, they are both administered by the SSA, and only individuals with a disability or who meet certain medical criteria can qualify for either program.

Find out about each Social Security disability program and whether you qualify for benefits below.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

This program pays disability benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are considered insured, which means you worked for a certain number of years and earned at least 40 Social Security credits throughout your working life.

You earn Social Security credits through paying Social Security taxes when you work, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year, which equates to 10 years of work.

Keep in mind the amount of credits you have does not affect the amount of benefits you receive — so you don't get extra benefits by exceeding 40 credits. The credit amount only speaks to whether you're qualified to receive benefits or not.

How to Apply for SSDI

You can apply for SSDI benefits online, by phone or in person. A good reference to start with is the Checklist for an Online Adult Disability Application, which provides a list of information you'll need to have on hand to apply. This includes:

  • Details about yourself, such as your birthday, Social Security number and names and dates of spouses and children
  • Information about your medical condition, including medical illnesses, injuries or other conditions
  • Job information, including a list of up to 5 jobs you've held in the last 15 years before you became unable to work

You may also need to supply copies of important documents, such as birth certificates and proof of U.S. citizenship.

After your application is completed and submitted, the SSA reviews your application to make sure you meet basic requirements to receive disability benefits.

A few areas they examine include:

  • Whether you've worked enough years to qualify
  • Any current work activities

Your application is then forwarded to the Disability Determination Services office in your state, and the state agency completes the application.

You can check the status of an SSDI disability application by logging into your Social Security account online or calling (800) 772-1213 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The other benefits program for individuals with disabilities is the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which pays benefits to people who demonstrate financial need. It's funded by general tax revenues instead of Social Security taxes.

It's designed to help aged, blind and disabled individuals who have little or no income, and it also provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

SSI Eligibility

To find out if you're eligible for SSI benefits, you can use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool from the SSA. You answer a few questions about yourself, and it determines your eligibility.

Social Security Definition of Disability

The term disability is a broad term for some people, and the Social Security Administration provides specific information on what constitutes a disability.

Keep in mind that Social Security only pays for total disability, and no benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability. These shorter-term programs are often available through individual state programs.

According to the SSA, you are considered disabled if:

  • You cannot do work that you did before
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s), and
  • Your disability has either lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or is expected to result in death.

Additional Resources

For more information on applying for Social Security disability benefits, you can visit any of the following websites or resources:

  • Disability Benefits Publication, which provides a broad overview of the process and how your eligibility is determined
  • SSA's Disability Benefits website
  • Online Application for Disability

For further help, contact your local Social Security office. They have qualified people who can assist you with completing your application for benefits.