Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits: Basics, How to Apply

Social Security Disability Insurance provides financial assistance to people who can’t work due to a disability.
Cheryl Lock
By Cheryl Lock 
Edited by Dalia Ramirez

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What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a government-sponsored benefits program that provides financial assistance to people with qualifying disabilities. The maximum monthly SSDI benefit is $3,627 in 2023 and $3,822 in 2024. SSDI is not the same as Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides monthly SSDI income to people who cannot work for a year or more due to a disability.

  • Once someone qualifies for SSDI, they'll receive payments electronically to a bank account through direct deposit or onto a Direct Express Debit Mastercard. In extremely rare cases, there may be an exception to the rule that all payments must be made electronically. The payments arrive on a monthly schedule.

  • As long as you have a qualifying health condition and cannot work routinely, you can continue to receive SSDI benefits.

  • The SSA will perform regular checks to confirm that your disability still exists.

How much does SSDI pay?

The average monthly SSDI benefit was $1,487 in September 2023

. The maximum monthly SSDI benefit is $3,627 in 2023 and $3,822 in 2024.

  • SSDI payments automatically increase if the SSA issues an annual cost-of-living adjustment, which tracks changes based on the consumer price index. The Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2024 is 3.2%.

  • SSDI benefits are based on several factors, including how much the person has contributed to Social Security via Social Security taxes on their past earnings.

  • The Social Security Administration uses a progressive benefit formula — weighted so that lower earners may get proportionally higher benefits — in its calculation.

Who qualifies for SSDI?

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have:

  • Worked and paid Social Security taxes. Typically, you'll need to have worked for five out of 10 years before the onset of your disability.

  • A medical condition that prohibits you from performing substantive work. You can view the SSA's complete disability evaluation listings to see if your condition qualifies. Different rules apply if you are blind or are applying for survivor's benefits.

The typical waiting period to receive benefits is five months. The SSA may pay benefits retroactively if it finds that you were eligible. However, the five-month waiting period may be waived if you previously qualified for SSDI benefits.

Though these standards may seem straightforward, in 2022 the Social Security Administration denied 62% of initial applications

. The following tips might increase your qualification chances:

  • Keep proper medical records. Include paperwork of your treatments and doctor visits throughout the history of your disability. Continue to gather this information as you go through the application process to help prove your case.

  • Demonstrate an effort to return to work. This includes following doctors' orders, seeing specialists and trying new treatments when prescribed. The SSA wants to see that applicants are doing everything possible to reenter the workforce, even after they've applied for SSDI.

  • Log into your Social Security account. See how many work credits you've earned by logging into your account. You generally need 40 work credits to qualify, with 20 credits earned in the last 10 years, ending in the year your disability started. However, credits can vary depending on your age.

  • Consider getting a lawyer. A legal representative can help you keep up with deadlines and provide further advice to help you with your case. If you appoint an attorney, notify the SSA through Form SSA-1696 (Appointment of Representative form). 

What's the difference between SSDI and SSI?

The main difference between SSDI and SSI is that SSI has no work-related requirements. SSDI, on the other hand, is an earned benefit that has work requirements to qualify. However, both programs pay monthly benefits to people with disabilities.

How to apply for SSDI

You can apply for SSDI benefits over the phone, at your local Social Security office or by filling out an application on the SSA website. Here are a few ways to streamline the process:

  • Apply as soon as you become disabled and believe you are eligible to receive SSDI. 

  • Gather your information ahead of time. You'll need: medical records and documentation of your treatments and physician visits; your Social Security number; and your past year's W-2 and military discharge papers, if applicable.

  • Prepare an account of your medical and work history so that the reviewer for your case can understand how your condition affects your ability to work.

  • Keep a history of everyone you speak to during the process. If you can refer back to notes that include who you talked to, on what date, and about which part of your application, you'll avoid missing key details that could keep your case from moving forward.

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Frequently asked questions

Yes. Some people are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits. However, eligibility is different for SSI and is based on financial qualifications.

Although there are income limitations for SSDI (individuals applying cannot earn more than $1,470 per month through work), unearned income sources such as investments, spousal income or other assets won’t impact SSDI payments. SSI income also won’t affect SSDI payments.

In general, if you don’t have enough work credits to qualify, you won’t be able to receive SSDI benefits. However, work credits vary based on your age and when your disability began. For example, if you develop a qualifying disability before 24, you’ll likely only need six credits in the three years before your disability begins to qualify for SSDI.

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