Social Security FAQs

How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?
Disability under Social Security for an adult is based on your inability to work because of a medical condition. To be considered disabled:

  • You must be unable to do the work you did before, and we decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.
  • Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

For adults, a five-step evaluation process is used to decide whether you are disabled under Social Security. The process considers any current work activity you are doing, your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. For more information, it is recommended that you read the following publication, Disability Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10029)

How much can I earn and still receive disability benefits?

There are special rules called "work incentives" that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

The trial work period continues until you accumulate nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you perform what we call "services" within a rolling 60-month period. Your work is considered "services" if you earn more than $670 a month in 2008. For 2007, this amount was $640.

After the trial work period ends, your benefits will stop for months when your earnings are at a level we consider "substantial," currently $940 in 2008. For 2007, this amount was $900. Different amounts apply to people who are disabled because of blindness. The monthly substantial amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2008 is $1,570; for 2007 this amount was $1,500.

For an additional 36 months after completing the trial work period, your benefits can begin again if they fall below the "substantial" level and you continue to have a disabling impairment. For more information about work incentives, it is recommended that you read the leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help (SSA Publication Number 05-10095).

Can I receive Social Security benefits and SSI?
You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify.

The amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. The SSI payment an eligible individual or eligible couple will receive may change on an annual basis. Many states add money to the basic check.

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.

For complete information on the eligibility requirements for SSI, you should read Social Security pamphlet "Supplemental Security Income."

To find out if you might be eligible for SSI in your state, call toll-free, 888-667-4130.

If I go back to work, will I automatically lose my disability benefits?
No, the Social Security Administration has several work incentives that may help you to return to work without losing your benefits.

For more information about Social Security's work incentives, call toll free 888-667-4130, contact your local Social Security office, or visit the special "Worksite." For more information on SSA's work incentive rules, see also the Red Book on Work Incentives.

Do disability benefits change once I turn full retirement age?
When you reach full retirement age, nothing will change, except for Social Security purposes, your benefits will be called retirement benefits instead of disability benefits. You do not need to take any action.

Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you will get your benefits with no limit on your earnings.

What is your full retirement age?

Year Of BirthFull Retirement Age (Years)
1937 or earlier65
193865 and 2 months
193965 and 4 months
194065 and 6 months
194165 and 8 months
194265 and 10 months
1943-195466
195566 and 2 months
195666 and 4 months
195766 and 6 months
195866 and 8 months
195966 and 10 months
1960 and later67

Why is there a five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability benefits?
The five-month waiting period ensures that during the early months of disability, we do not pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities. Social Security Disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Therefore, Social Security Disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began. You are not entitled to benefits for any month in the waiting period.

Will I automatically get Medicare benefits if I get disability benefits?

Mr. Warnock will automatically enroll you in Medicare after you get disability benefits for two years. The count will start 24 months from the month you were entitled to receive disability benefits, not the month when you received your first check.

People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) get Medicare beginning with the month they become entitled to disability benefits.

Medicare has two parts — hospital insurance and medical insurance. Hospital insurance helps pay hospital bills and some follow-up care. The taxes you paid while you were working financed this coverage, so it's premium free. The other part of Medicare, medical insurance, helps pay doctors' bills and other services. You will pay a monthly premium for this coverage if you want it.

What is the earliest age that I can receive disability benefits?
There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict Social Security definition of disability. To qualify for disability benefits, you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise.

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.

Go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify3.htm to see how many credits you may need to qualify for disability benefits.