Do you qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits? You might. | Family Resource Guru

Do you qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits? You might.

Social Security is intimidating. Always in the news, making and breaking the careers of senators and presidents, approaching Social Security can feel like approaching a celebrity. Will it accept you? Reject you? Ignore you? What do you even say? Many people who might qualify for disability benefits from Social Security don’t even bother, suffering in silence, unable to earn a living.

Let’s pierce the veil of mystery and politics. If you cannot work because of an illness or injury, don’t avoid Social Security. It may be a massive government bureaucracy. It’s there to help you.

How to Apply

Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) is easy. You don’t need to fly to Washington, D.C. or answer a riddle from a bridge troll. You can apply one of three ways:

You will typically need to provide your work history and medical records including lab results. The SSA provides a Disability Starter Kit to help you prepare for a successful, accurate application.

Do I Qualify?

The SSA breaks down approval to a five-step process. These are the hurdles you need to clear to qualify for disability benefits.

1. Am I Currently Working?

SSD is reserved for persons who cannot earn a living. The first possible disqualifying factor, then, is if you are earning a living. The maximum earning per month changes from year to year. In 2019, you had to earn under $1,220 per month to qualify.

2. Is My Condition Considered "Severe?" 

The severity of a disability is assessed by how much it interferes with "basic work-related activities." 

3. Does the SSA Recognize My Condition as Qualifying?

The SSA keeps a list of recognized impairments. If your condition falls on that list, steps #4 and #5 can be skipped—you're in. Certain conditions qualify for fast approval under the "Compassionate Allowance" or "Quick Disability Decision" processes.

4. Can I No Longer Do the Work I Used to Do?

If your condition does not fall on the list of recognized conditions, be prepared to prove that you can no longer do the work you used to do as a result of your condition.

5. Can I Perform Any Other Work?

You may also need to prove that you cannot perform other work.

Bonus Qualifying Question: How Much Work History do I Actually Have?

A little-understood quirk of SSD is that you have to have previously worked (and paid taxes into the system) to qualify. Sometimes, you have to have worked recently.

How much work history is needed? The SSA uses a system of "credits." The more income you earn in a year, the more credits you earn, up to four credits per year. In 2019, a self-employed person could earn one credit for every $1,360 earned. At $5,440 in income, that person has maxed out his or her four credits for the year.

How do these credits factor into your approval chances? Typically, a disabled American needs 40 credits to qualify, 20 of them earned in the last 10 years. That's just an example, however. Younger Americans with shorter work histories may qualify with fewer credits.