Your Free Guide to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Your Free Guide to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

You will learn about:
  • What SSDI benefits include
  • The requirements you need to meet to qualify
  • How to apply and what happens once you finish the process

89 min – Estimated reading time

Your Free Guide to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Your Free Guide to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

ssdi guide cover

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, is a federal assistance program that provides financial benefits to individuals with an approved disability as well as certain members of their families. The program is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which is responsible for determining which disabilities qualify for the benefit program.

SSDI benefits are determined by the total number of years the beneficiary worked prior to his or her disability, taking into account the amount of Social Security taxes he or she paid throughout that time. For more information about SSDI, including eligibility criteria, benefit amounts and how to apply, continue reading the sections below.

How SSDI Works

Social Security Disability Insurance pays monthly benefits to workers who can no longer maintain employment due to a disability. Eligibility for the SSDI program depends on how long they have worked and the amount of Social Security taxes they have paid on their earnings. The purpose of SSDI benefits is to replace some or all of the beneficiary’s lost income due to having a disability.

Disabled workers must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability, which is covered in the “How the SSA Defines a Disability” section. Then, they and their qualified family members must complete the application process to be considered for the program. During the process, they will be required to submit the following types of information:

  • Personal information
  • Work history
  • Medical information

After applying, the SSA will mail a determination of benefits to the applicant. Upon receiving approval, beneficiaries will receive monthly payments that they can use however they see fit. 

SSDI vs. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSDI is not the same as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is another type of disability benefit program provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). While these two programs are both designed to provide benefits to individuals who meet the SSA’s definition of disabled, they differ in eligibility requirements and program specifics.

While SSDI is based on an individual’s work history and Social Security tax payments, SSI is based on financial need. To receive SSI benefits, applicants are required to show proof of low income and assets. To receive SSDI benefits, applicants are required to show proof of having enough work credits (which are based on taxable employment). Refer to the “Work Credits” section to learn more about required SSDI work credits.

SSDI and Medicare

Anyone who is eligible for SSDI automatically becomes eligible for Medicare, the federal health insurance program, after a 24-month waiting period. During the waiting period, SSDI recipients may qualify for health insurance through a former employer or through Medicaid, another type of federal and state health care plan. 

Each month of the waiting period that a beneficiary receives SSDI payments counts toward the 24-month requirement. SSDI recipients who have previous periods of disability can count those months toward the 24-month requirement if their new disability period begins: 

  • Within 60 months after the termination month of the workers’ disability benefits, OR 
  • Within 84 months after the termination of disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits or childhood disability benefits, OR 
  • At any time if the current disability is the same as (or related to) the disability of the previous period of disability.

SSDI beneficiaries who choose to work during the waiting period can still receive Medicare coverage as long as they still have the disability.

SSDI Program Contact Information

Phone Number: Toll-free: 1-800-772-1213

SSDI Eligibility by Beneficiary

woman with hand injury talking with doctorssdi eligibility

There are several categories of eligibility for SSDI, each of which is based on the type of recipient. Disabled workers must meet different criteria than spouses, widows or children. Continue reading the sections below to learn about the eligibility requirements for all types of beneficiaries.

Requirements for Disabled Workers

As a disabled worker applying for SSDI benefits, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Work Credits: Worked in a job (or jobs) covered by Social Security
    • If you are currently working, your income must fall below a certain amount to meet the definition of disabled. Continue reading the section below for more information about income.
  • Disability: Meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled

Work Credits

A work credit is a figure represented by your employment. You earn work credits (also known as Social Security credits) when you work and pay Social Security taxes. 

To qualify for SSDI, you must meet a recent work test and a work duration test. The recent work test determines whether you worked recently enough to qualify.

The number of work credits you need to meet the recent work test requirements depends on your age:

  • If you become disabled before age 24, you must have earned six work credits in the three-year period ending when your disability began.
  • If you become disabled between the ages of 24 and 31, you need to have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. As a general example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
  • If you become disabled at age 31 or older, you must have earned 20 work credits in the 10-year period immediately before you become disabled.

You must also meet the work duration test, which determines if you have earned enough work credits in your age category. The table below shows an estimate of the total number of work credits you will need and corresponding total years of work based on your age when you became disabled.

Age When You Become DisabledNumber of Work CreditsYears of Work Needed
Before 2861.5
3082
34123
38164
42205
44225.5
46246
48266.5 
50287
52307.5
54328
56348.5
58369
60389.5

Currently, you will earn one work credit for every $1,510 you make in a year. You can earn a maximum of four work credits per year, meaning you will max out after earning $6,040. The rate at which you earn work credits changes yearly to reflect differences in the cost of living. 

How the SSA Defines a Disability

In addition to meeting the work credit requirements, you must meet all components of the definition of disabled according to the Social Security Administration. SSDI is only paid out for total disability. If you are partially disabled or are considered to have a short-term disability, you do not meet the criteria of disabled.

The SSA determines you to be disabled when all of the below are true:

  • You cannot do the same work that you did before your disability.
    • The disability must directly affect work-related abilities, such as walking, lifting, remembering or sitting.
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s)/disability.
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for a period of at least one year or to result in death.
Qualifying Medical Conditions

The SSA has a list of medical conditions for each major body system that are considered severe enough to prevent you from working. If your medical condition is not on the list, the SSA will determine whether your condition is as severe as those included on the list.

See the list of categories below and their source links for more information:

Compassionate Allowances and Quick Disability Determinations

You may qualify for an expedited disability claim process if you have a medical condition that falls within a Compassionate Allowance. These conditions are those that usually qualify for disability, such as acute leukemia, ALS or pancreatic cancer. The SSA implements the Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) process, a computer screening process, to identify cases with a high probability of approval.

If you have a condition that qualifies for a Compassionate Allowance, you can begin receiving SSDI benefits as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed. Click here to view the list of all conditions that qualify for a Compassionate Allowance, or see below: https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm 

Qualifying Income Levels

The SSA’s definition of disabled is affected by any monthly income you may earn/have earned while claiming the disability. 

The SSA considers an average of $1,350 or less ($2,260 for blind individuals) per month to be a qualifying income. If you make more than this amount each month, the SSA would not generally determine you to be disabled.

Maintaining Eligibility

The SSA frequently reviews SSDI cases to ensure that beneficiaries still meet the eligibility criteria. You will continue receiving your SSDI benefits as long as your disability still prevents you from working or your situation remains the same. Your medical condition can fall into one of three categories, each of which causes the SSA to review your case at various frequencies:

  • Expected Improvement
    • If your disability is expected to improve, the SSA will review your case within six to 18 months after you start receiving benefits.
  • Possible Improvement
    • If your disability has the possibility of improving, the SSA will review your case no sooner than three years after you start receiving benefits.
  • Improvement Is Not Expected
    • The SSA will review your case no sooner than seven years after you start receiving benefits if your disability is not expected to improve. 

The SSA has the right to terminate your SSDI benefits in the following scenarios:

  • Your average monthly wages equate to $1,350 or more.
    • The SSA considers this monthly income to correlate to “substantial work,” meaning the applicant is earning enough money that they are no longer considered limited by disability. If you are blind, the monthly wage amount increases to $2,260 or more.
  • The SSA considers your disability to have improved to the point that you are no longer disabled.

Requirements for Spouses to Receive SSDI

couple looking at bills spouse requirements ssdi

As a disabloed worker, your spouse is eligible to receive benefits from the SSA only in the following scenarios:

  • He or she is 62 years of age or older.
    • If his or her retirement benefits from the SSA are higher than your disability benefits, he or she will receive that first. If the disability benefits are higher than the retirement benefits, he or she will receive a combination of retirement and disability benefits.
  • He or she is caring for a child who is either younger than 16 years of age or disabled.
    • If your child is younger than 16, your spouse can receive SSDI benefits until the child reaches age 16, after which your spouse would only qualify for retirement benefits beginning at age 62 or survivor benefits beginning at age 60.

If your spouse fits one of the eligibility scenarios listed above, he or she is eligible for a monthly benefit of up to 50 percent of your disability benefit amount. However, there is a limit to the amount your family can receive in total. Refer to the “Maximum Family Benefit Amount” section to learn more.

Requirements for Children to Receive SSDI

Your children are eligible to receive SSDI benefits on your record if they are unmarried and meet one of the following requirements:

  • Younger than 18 years of age
  • Between the ages of 18 and 19 years of age and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12)
  • Age 18 or older and have a disability that began before age 22

Eligible children can be biological, adopted, stepchildren or dependent grandchildren. Benefits for your children terminate when they reach 18 years of age, unless they are disabled. However, if your child is still a full-time student when they turn 18, he or she can continue receiving benefits until graduation or until two months after the child turns 19, whichever comes first.

Adult Disabled Children

If your adult child has a disability that began before age 22, he or she will become eligible for SSDI benefits as soon as you do. 

Children that meet this requirement do not need to earn work credits to receive benefits on your SSDI benefit record, but they cannot have a substantial income (no more than $1,350 per month). Their disability will be verified by the SSA in the same way yours will.

If your disabled child is already receiving disability benefits on his or her own record, you may check to see which record will provide the highest amount of benefits by comparing the benefit payments from both programs.

Also, SSDI benefits typically stop when children get married. However, if your disabled child marries another disabled individual, it generally qualifies as a protected marriage and is exempt from this rule. Contact an SSA Customer Service Representative at 1-800-772-1213 to verify marriage protection.

Requirements for Divorced Spouses to Receive SSDI

If you are divorced, your ex-spouse may qualify for benefits on your Social Security record even if you get remarried. To qualify on your record, your ex-spouse must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Must have been married to you for at least 10 years
  • Must be 62 years of age or older
  • Must not have remarried
  • Cannot be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on his or her own Social Security record or on another person’s Social Security record
  • The pension is not based on earnings
  • The pension is from a federal, Civil Service Offset, state or local government job where your ex-spouse paid Social Security taxes AND at least one of the following applies:
    • He or she filed for and was entitled to spouse, widow, or widower benefits before April 1, 2004.
    • His or her last day of employment was before July 1, 2004.
    • He or she paid Social Security taxes on earnings during the last 60 months of government service.

If your divorced spouse does qualify for benefits on your record, it will not affect your benefits. His or her benefits will not be counted toward your family maximum amount. Learn more in the “Maximum Family Benefit Amount” section. 

Requirements for Survivors, Widows and Widowers

A “survivor” is a spouse, child or parent of a worker who dies, whereas a “widow” or “widower” is the spouse of the deceased worker. Survivors, widows and widowers may qualify for one month of survivor benefits if the worker worked long enough and earned enough work credits. 

The required number of work credits varies on a case- by-case basis; children and spouses who are caring for children can qualify for benefits even if the deceased worker has credit for just one and one-half years of work (6 credits) in the three years just before their death. The SSA suggests all families speak with a Social Security Claims Representative to determine the required number of work credits for survivor benefits.

The following family members may qualify for survivor benefits.

Widows and Widowers

Widows and widowers qualify for survivor benefits at 60 years of age or older. Those who are disabled, however, can qualify upon reaching age 50.  Widows and widowers can qualify at any age if they are caring for the deceased worker’s child who is younger than 16 or is disabled and receiving benefits on their record.

Those who already receive SSDI benefits as a spouse will have their benefits automatically converted to survivor benefits after the SSA receives a report of death. To report a death, call the SSA at:

1-800-772-1213

The amount of the survivor benefit depends on age, status and the deceased worker’s benefit amount. 

If the widow or widower is…They will receive this percentage of the deceased worker’s benefit amount:
Full retirement age or older 100 percent
Between age 60 and full retirement age71.5 – 99 percent 
Disabled and between the ages of 50 and 5971.5 percent
Caring for the deceased worker’s child who is younger than 16 years of age75 percent

Children

Unmarried children of deceased workers qualify for survivor benefits if they:

  • Are younger than 18 (or younger than 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school), OR 
  • Are 18 years of age or older with a disability that began before age 22.

Eligible children, stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, or adopted children of a deceased worker can receive a benefit payment of 75 percent of the deceased worker’s benefit amount.

Dependent Parents

Dependent parents of deceased workers who are at least 62 years of age may qualify for survivor benefits if they meet the following requirements:

  • They were receiving at least half of their support from their working child.
  • They are not eligible to receive a retirement benefit that is higher than the benefit that would be paid on the deceased worker’s Social Security record.
  • They did not get married after the deceased worker’s death.

Dependent parents can be natural parents, stepparents or adoptive parents if they became the deceased worker’s parent before he or she was 16 years of age. Dependent parents can receive the following benefit amounts:

  • Single surviving parent: 82.5 percent of the deceased worker’s benefit amount
  • Two surviving parents: 75 percent to each parent

Ex-Spouses

An ex-spouse may qualify as a survivor if he or she was married to the deceased worker for at least 10 years. However, the length of the marriage does not matter if the ex-spouse is caring or the deceased worker’s natural or legally adopted child who is younger than 16 or who is disabled. The ex-spouse can remarry upon reaching age 60 (or 50 if disabled) with no penalty to his or her survivor benefits. 

The benefit amount for an eligible ex-spouse is the same as that for widows and widowers:

If the ex-spouse is…They will receive this percentage of the deceased worker’s benefit amount:
Full retirement age or older 100 percent
Between age 60 and full retirement age71.5 – 99 percent 
Disabled and between the ages of 50 and 5971.5 percent
Caring for a child younger than 16 years of age75 percent

Requirements for Service Members to Receive SSDI

Service members may qualify for disability benefits if they have a disability and do not have substantial work. They can receive an expedited application process if they became disabled while on active military service on or after October 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurred. SSDI benefits differ from any disability benefits provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), though it is possible to get both types of benefits simultaneously. Service members must apply for both benefit programs separately to determine if they qualify.

Service members may remain on active duty and still receive SSDI, but the work cannot lead to substantial pay or profit. The SSA will determine if the active duty work qualifies the service member for any disability benefits. If the member changes occupations, he or she must contact the SSA and provide one of the following:

  • Military Occupational Specialty code (MOS)
  • Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC)
  • Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC)

Families of service members who qualify for SSDI are eligible for benefits if they meet the following criteria:

  • Spouses
    • 62 years of age or older
    • Any age if caring for a child younger than 16 or disabled
  • Unmarried children
    • Younger than 18 (or younger than 19 if they are enrolled full-time in school)
    • 18 or older if they have a disability that began before they reached age 22
  • Ex-spouse
    • 62 years of age or older, was married to the service member for at least 10 years and is currently unmarried

Maximum Family Benefit Amount

There is a limit to the total amount of benefits a family can receive on one disabled worker’s Social Security record. This limit depends on the worker’s benefit amount and the number of family members who qualify on the record. The maximum benefit is 85 percent of the worker’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME), but it cannot be less than 150 percent of the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). 

Learn more about the AIME formula here: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/familymax.html

The PIA is the benefit amount that an individual receives upon reaching retirement age. It is calculated using a total of three different percentages of portions of the disabled worker’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).

The family of a worker who turns 62 years of age or dies in 2022 before reaching age 62 may receive a total family benefit amount that does not exceed:

  • 150 percent of the first $1,308 of the worker’s PIA, PLUS
  • 272 percent of the worker’s PIA over $1,308 through $1,889, PLUS
  • 134 percent of the worker’s PIA over $1,889 through $2,463, PLUS
  • 175 percent of the worker’s PIA over $2,463.

The total amount is rounded to the next lower multiple of $.10.

SSDI Benefit Payments

man with bills and calculator ssdi benefit payments

The total amount of your SSDI benefits varies depending on several factors. Continue reading the sections below to learn how benefit amounts are calculated, how much you can expect to receive from Social Security and the current benefits payment schedule. 

Factors That Determine the Benefit Amount

There are certain factors that determine your disability benefit amount. They are:

  • Income
    • The SSA considers your lifetime average earnings for work that is covered by Social Security (i.e. employment that required you to pay Social Security taxes). 
  • Other public benefits
    • If you receive benefits from another government or public program, your disability benefits will be reduced until you reach full retirement age. These are:
      • Workers’ compensation
      • Pension for work not covered by Social Security (such as government or foreign employment)
      • Any other benefits paid to you by federal, state or local government for disabling medical conditions that are not job-related
    • If you receive SSDI and any of the above, your total benefit amount cannot exceed 80 percent of your average earnings before you became disabled.

Your Social Security benefits will not be reduced if you receive benefits from the following:

  • The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Private pensions or other private insurance benefits
  • There are limits to the benefit amount. For more information about benefit maximums, refer to the “Maximum Family Benefit Amount” section of this guide.

How to Estimate Your SSDI Benefit Amount

If you are disabled and have already applied for SSDI, you will receive a benefit statement from the SSA that contains an estimated payment amount. If you do not yet have a benefit statement, you can get one online using the mySocialSecurity online portal here: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.

In order to create a free mySocialSecurity account, you must:

  • Have a Social Security number;
  • Have a valid email address;
  • Have a U.S. mailing address; and 
  • Be at least 18 years of age.

You can only create an account for yourself. Even if another person gives you permission to create an account for him or her, you are not permitted to do so. Failure to comply may result in civil penalties. 

You can also estimate your SSDI benefit amount using one of the benefit calculators provided by the SSA. Access it here: https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/AnypiaApplet.html.

You will need to provide all of your qualified earnings, which are included in the benefit statement you will receive after creating a free mySocialSecurity online account. To use the calculator, you will also need to enter the following information:

  • Your date of birth
  • Your age at retirement (or the age at which you plan to retire)
  • Annual earnings until the last year
    • For the current year, you must enter your expected earnings

Upon entering all the information and clicking the “Calculate Benefit” button, you will see your eligibility status for disability benefits as well as retirement and survivor benefits. You will be presented with an estimated monthly payment for each type of benefit you qualify for, as well as whether your family members qualify. If you do not qualify for one or more types of benefits, you will not see an estimated amount. 

Benefit Payment Schedule

When you receive your SSDI benefits depends on your date of birth. The chart below shows you when you will receive your Social Security benefits in 2022 based on your birthday. 

Date of BirthBenefits Paid
1st through 10th day of the monthEvery 2nd Wednesday of the month
11th through 20th day of the monthEvery 3rd Wednesday of the month
21st through 31st day of the monthEvery 4th Wednesday of the month

How to Apply for SSDI

woman filling out form apply for ssdi

Anyone interested in receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration must first complete the application process. Depending on who you are, you may be eligible to apply in the following ways:

  • Online

  • Over the phone

  • In person

Documents and Information Required to Apply for SSDI

To apply for SSDI, you will need the following documents:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States)
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns for the previous year
  • An Adult Disability Report that includes details about your illnesses, injuries, medical conditions and work history
  • Medical evidence, such as medical records, doctors’ reports and recent test results that correlate with the disability
  • Award letters, pay stubs, settlement agreements or other proof of any workers’ compensation or similar benefits you received
  • Documents that show banking or direct deposit information

You will also be asked to provide the following information:

  • Your name and gender
  • Your Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Your name at birth (if different)
  • Your date and place of birth
  • Your marriage status
    • If married, you will need your spouse’s name, date of birth and SSN
    • If previously married, you will need the names, dates of birth and SSN (if known) of any former spouses
  • The dates and places of each of your marriages and, for marriages that have ended, how and when they ended
  • The names of your unmarried children younger than 18
  • The names of your unmarried children ages 18 to 19 enrolled in secondary school
  • The names of your unmarried children who were disabled before 22 years of age
  • Whether you have or had a child younger than age 3 living with you during a calendar year when you had no earnings
  • Whether you have a parent who was dependent on you for half of his or her support when you first became disabled
  • Whether you or anyone else has ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on your behalf
    • If so, you must provide information about the Social Security record on which you applied 
  • Whether you have used any other Social Security Number 
  • Whether you completed active military service before 1968
    • If so, you must submit the dates of service and whether you have previously qualified for a monthly benefit from a military or federal civilian agency
  • Whether you or your spouse have ever worked for the railroad industry 
  • Whether you have earned Social Security credits under another country’s Social Security system
  • Whether you qualified for (or expect to receive) a pension or annuity based on your federal or state government work
  • The date you became unable to work
  • Whether you are still able to work
  • Information about any workers’ compensation you received
  • Your annual earnings from 1978 to present-day
  • Names of employers and work history
  • Whether you received or expect to receive any money from an employer since the date you became unable to work
  • Felony or arrest warrant information

How to Apply Online

You can apply for SSDI benefits online if you meet all of the following eligibility requirements:

  • At least 18 years of age
  • Not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record
  • Cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death
  • Have not been denied disability benefits in the last 60 days 

If you meet all of the above requirements, follow the steps outlined below to apply for SSDI benefits online.

  • Visit the Disability Benefit Application portal here: https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/dib.

    You must sign into your mySocialSecurity account to apply online. If you do not have an account, create one for free here: https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.action.

  • Gather all required documents and information.

    For more information, refer to “Documents and Information Required to Apply for SSDI”.

  • Enter all required information as prompted.

    The online application process will take between one and two hours to complete. You can save your progress and continue the application at a later time.

  • Receive confirmation from the SSA.

    You will either receive an email or mail confirmation of your disability application.

How to Apply by Phone

To apply for SSDI by phone, call the SSA between the hours of 8 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday at:

1 (800) 772-1213

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the SSA TTY line at:

1 (800) 325-0778

How to Apply in Person

To apply for SSDI in person, find your local Social Security office. Search by ZIP code here: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.

How to Check the Status of Your Application

woman using computer checking ssdi status

Once you submit your SSDI application, you can check its status using your mySocialSecurity online account. Follow the steps below to learn how to check your application status.

  • Sign into your mySocialSecurity account.

    Sign in here: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.

  • Scroll down to the “Your Benefit Applications” section.

  • Click “View Details” listed under the “More Info” heading.

  • Navigate to the “Current Status” section to see your application status.

SSDI Disability Determination Process

After you apply for SSDI benefits, the SSA must review your case and determine whether you fit the eligibility guidelines. The SSA determines your eligibility for benefits by considering your medical condition, your previous work experience and whether you will be able to work again in the future. 

The Role of SSA Field Offices and the DDS in Processing SSDI Claims

The SSA has field offices throughout the United States. When you apply for disability, your claim is initially handled at your local SSA office. This office is responsible for verifying the nonmedical information you provide in your application. When complete, the SSA office sends the application and all required information to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office.

Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices handle the medical information in your application. DDS offices, also known as state agencies, determine whether your condition qualifies you for disability by obtaining evidence from your own medical sources (i.e. your doctors and health care professionals). If medical evidence is unavailable or insufficient, the DDS may schedule a consultative examination (CE) to obtain additional evidence needed to determine your medical eligibility.

When the DDS determines your medical eligibility, it sends the application back to the local SSA office to take action. If you are approved, the SSA will determine your benefit amount and initiate the benefit payments. If you are not approved, the SSA will keep your application on file in the event you wish to appeal. Learn more about denials and appeals in the “SSDI Denials and Appeals” section on this guide. 

When will you receive a determination letter?

The disability determination process generally takes three to five months to complete. However, the exact amount of time depends on how quickly the SSA and DDS can verify your information. If you qualify for a Compassionate Allowance (CAL) or Quick Disability Determination (QDD), your disability application will be expedited. Learn more about CALs and QDDs in the “Compassionate Allowances and Quick Disability Determinations” section of this guide.

SSDI Waiting Period

If you qualify for SSDI, you will receive your first benefit payment in the sixth month after your application is approved. This five-month waiting period is required for all SSDI beneficiaries, even those that qualify for a Compassionate Allowance or Quick Disability Determination. 

SSDI Denials and Appeals

sad woman looking at paper ssdi denials and appeals

If you are denied SSDI benefits and believe the denial is a mistake, you have the right to appeal the decision. The appeals process varies based on why your SSDI application was denied. Continue reading the sections below to learn about the most common reasons for benefits denials and how to initiate the appeal process.

Common Reasons for SSDI Benefit Denials

Your SSDI benefits application can be denied due to medical or non-medical reasons. A medical denial happens when your medical condition does not meet the SSA’s definition of a disability. A non-medical denial occurs when:

  • You are denied benefits as a recipient other than a disabled worker (such as a spouse or child).
  • You do not have enough work credits. 

SSDI Appeals Process

If your SSDI benefits are denied, you have 60 days from the date you receive the notice of denial to file an appeal. There are four levels of appeals:

  • Reconsideration
  • Hearing
  • Appeals Council Review
  • Federal Court

You must start the appeals process with a reconsideration; if you still disagree with the outcome, you can request higher levels of appeals in the order listed above. You can initiate the appeals process online using the Medical Appeal or Non-Medical Appeal online portal, or you can initiate the process in writing by mail. Follow the steps below to request an appeal. These steps apply to all levels of appeals.

Filing a Reconsideration Online 

You can complete the appeal process online if you were denied SSDI benefits. You are allowed to elect a representative to help you with your appeal or complete the appeal on your behalf. 

You will need to provide the following information during the appeal:

  • Full name
  • Social Security Number 
  • Address and phone number
  • Date of birth

If you were denied for medical reasons, you will need to provide the following:

  • Name of legal representative (if you are using one)
  • Name, address, and phone number of a friend or relative who knows about your medical condition
  • Details about any changes to your medical condition
  • Details about any new medical conditions (if applicable)
  • Name, address, phone number and dates of office visits for all health care providers, treatments and tests since you initially applied
  • Name of any medicine you are taking, the reason for taking it, side effects and the name of the doctor who prescribed it
  • Details about any changes in your daily activities, work and education (if applicable)
  • Documents that support your medical condition or changes you have included

Once you gather all the required information and documents, follow the steps outlined below to file an appeal online. 

  • Visit the applicable online appeal portal.
    1. Access the Medical Denial Appeal online portal here: https://secure.ssa.gov/iApplsRe/start
    2. Access the Non-Medical Denial Appeal online portal here: https://secure.ssa.gov/iApplNMD/start
  • Click “Start a New Appeal.”

    The Medical Denial Appeal process will take between 40 and 60 minutes. The Non-Medical Denial Appeal process will take between 10 and 15 minutes. You can only save your progress and return to it at a later time if you are pursuing a Medical Denial Appeal.

  • Agree to the Electronic Appeals Terms of Service.
  • Enter all required information as prompted.

    There are sections in the online portal that allow you to upload supporting documents.

Filing a Reconsideration in Writing 

You can request an appeal in writing using the application form or by writing a letter to the SSA explaining your disagreement. If you choose to write a letter, you must include your Social Security Number. 

If you wish to use the application, download and complete the Disability Report – Appeal (Form 3441) here: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-3441.pdf. When the form is complete, mail or bring it to your local SSA field office. Find your nearest office using the SSA Office Locator tool here: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp.

If you cannot download the form, call the SSA toll-free at 1 (800) 772-1213 to request that Form 3441 be sent to you via mail. SSA representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 7 PM. 

Advancing to the Next Appeal Level

You need to begin your appeal process by requesting a reconsideration. Upon following the steps in the section above to request the reconsideration, the SSA will take a second look at your SSDI application. An individual who was not part of your application will be responsible for the reconsideration. He or she will consider the information provided in the initial application, as well as any new evidence submitted during the appeal. 

When the reconsideration is complete, you will receive a letter from the SSA notifying you of the outcome. If you still disagree with the decision, you may advance to the next level of appeals: a hearing.

What is a hearing?

A hearing is the second step in the appeal process. It will be conducted by an administrative law judge, who did not partake in your application determination or in your reconsideration. Most hearings are held via telephone or video conference in accordance with CDC recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if an in-person hearing takes place, it is typically held within 75 miles of your home. The law judge will notify you of the location or type of hearing.

The hearing is your chance to provide evidence or witness statements that prove you qualify for SSDI benefits. You are allowed to bring witnesses to the hearing, such as doctors or medical experts. You may be asked to submit certain pieces of evidence to help clarify discrepancies in your application.

You may not be required to attend the hearing. If you do not wish to or cannot attend, notify the SSA before the hearing is scheduled to take place. You will be advised whether your presence is necessary. 

After the hearing, you will receive a letter and a copy of the judge’s decision. If you still disagree, you can request the next level of appeal: an Appeals Council review. 

What is an Appeals Council review?

You can request an appeal to the Social Security Appeals Council, which reviews all previous appeal requests and determines if your case has been mistakenly denied. If the Council believes the result of the hearing was correct, it will deny the request for review. However, if the Council decides to review your case, it will make a decision itself or issue an order returning your case to a different administrative law judge for further action.

If the Appeals Council decides that the decision made in the hearing was correct and does not review your case, you will receive a letter with details about the denial. If the Appeals Council reviews your case and makes a decision, you will receive a copy of the decision. If the Appeals Council sends your case back down to an administrative law judge, you will receive a letter explaining why.

If you disagree with any action by the Appeals Council, you can request the highest level of appeal: a federal court lawsuit.

What is a federal court lawsuit?

If you have advanced through all three levels of appeal and still believe the SSA incorrectly denied you SSDI benefits, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court within 60 days of receiving a letter from the Appeals Council. The letter you receive about the decision made by the Appeals Council will outline the next steps to filing a lawsuit. 

To proceed with a civil lawsuit, you’ll need to file it in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which you live. If your location is not served by a judicial district, you can file in the district court for the district that serves Washington D.C.


Generally, you will be required to send the SSA copies of the complaint you filed along with documents of the summons issued by the court. They will only be accepted if you send them via certified or registered mail. All documents should be sent to the Office of the General Counsel that handles the area where the complaint is filed. You can find a chart containing the mailing addresses for all OGC offices in each district here: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/links/0203106020

Participating in the SSDI Program

man filling out form ssdi application

As an SSDI program participant, there are certain requirements you must meet to continue receiving benefits. 

Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs)

In order to receive SSDI benefits, your disability must be permanent and continue to affect your ability to work. The Social Security Administration reviews your case periodically to determine if you still qualify for benefits. It conducts two types of continuing disability reviews (CDRs) to verify your eligibility for the program. They are:

  • Work reviews
  • Medical reviews

Work Reviews

During a work review, the SSA considers any and all income that you earn to verify it falls within the limits of the SSDI program. Your income must fall below a certain amount to qualify for benefits, as your disability must be impacting your ability to earn wages. For more information about income requirements, refer to the “Qualifying Income Levels” section of this guide.

Medical Reviews

During a medical review, the SSA evaluates your condition to verify that it still meets the definition of a disability. For more information, refer to the “Maintaining Eligibility” section on this guide. 

CDR Exemptions

You will not have to undergo a medical review based on work activity alone if you have received disability benefits for at least 24 months or if you are participating in the Ticket to Work program (learn more about this program in the “Ticket to Work Program” section). This means that if your work or income level changes, you will not need to have a medical review done each time. You will, however, still be required to undergo a regularly scheduled medical review. 

To qualify for a CDR exemption while you participate in the Ticket to Work program, you must be actively using a ticket. This is known as “in use.” You must have a ticket status that contains “in use” to remain exempt from medical reviews. If your ticket status is listed as any of the following, you are subject to a medical review:

  • Eligible
  • Mailed
  • Assigned – Not in Use
  • Not in Use
  • Not Assigned – Not in Use
  • Terminated

Reviews Resulting in the Termination of Benefits

After a review, the SSA determines if you remain eligible for SSDI or if you no longer meet the requirements of the program. There are two causes that can lead to a termination of SSDI benefits: 

  • Your work is considered “substantial.”
    • Average monthly wages of $1,350 or more per month ($2,260 or more if you are blind) are considered substantial.
  • Your medical condition has improved to the point that you are no longer disabled.

How to Prepare for a CDR

Before you undergo a CDR, you will receive a letter from the SSA notifying you about the impending review. Then, your local Social Security office will contact you regarding the specifics of the review. The representative will ask you for information about your medical treatments and any work that you may have done since you started receiving SSDI benefits.

To prepare for your CDR, it may be helpful to gather any medical documents or reports from your health care professionals. Doing this beforehand can prevent delays in the process.

How Working Impacts SSDI Benefits

disabled man in interview working SSDI Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has incentives and work programs that help you find or maintain employment while still being eligible for SSDI benefits. If you choose to work while receiving benefits, you must make sure your earned income does not disqualify you from the SSDI program. Continue reading the sections below to learn how working can impact your benefits.

Working While on Social Security Disability

If you are thinking about going back to work after receiving SSDI benefits, you are allowed a trial work period of at least nine months. During this period, you can explore your employment options and determine if working with your medical condition is feasible.

You will receive your full SSDI benefits regardless of how much you are earning as long as you report your work to the SSA.

Each month that you earn more than $970 is considered a “trial work month,” which counts toward the trial work period. If you are self-employed, a trial work month is any month during which you make more than $970 after expenses or work more than 80 hours. The trial work period ends when you reach nine months of work in a 60-month period. Once your trial work period ends, you can have 36 extra months during which you can work and still receive SSDI benefits for any month your earnings are not substantial (more than $1,350). 

You may need certain services or items that assist you while you work. If your medical condition requires you to pay for these items or services, you can deduct these impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) from your monthly earnings.

Examples of approved IRWEs include the following:

  • Special transportation
  • Medical supplies
  • Medical devices
  • Service animals
  • Doctors visits related to preparing you for work
  • Counseling services
  • Job coaching services

Reporting Requirements While Working on Social Security Disability

If you work while receiving SSDI benefits, you must notify the SSA when any of the following occurs:

  • You start or stop working
  • Your hours or wages change
  • Your job duties change
  • You start paying IRWEs

To report changes in your work to the SSA, use one of the following methods.

Report Online

You can use your mySocialSecurity online account to report your monthly wages. Log into your account here: www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. When you are finished reporting, you will receive a receipt to confirm the changes.

Report by Phone

Call the SSA toll-free at:

1 (800) 772-1213 or 1 (800) 325-0778 (TTY)

Representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 7 PM.

Report in Person

Find your local SSA field office using the office locator tool here: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp 

Ticket to Work Program

The Ticket to Work program provides free employment services to SSDI recipients. If you are unsure whether working is right for you, this program can help you decide. The Ticket to Work Program helps you prepare for work, find a job or maintain meaningful employment. If you participate, you are eligible to receive the following work-related services:

  • Career counseling
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Job placement
  • Career training

You can access the Ticket to Work program website here for more information: https://www.ssa.gov/work/.

When you participate in the Ticket to Work program, you can assign your employment “ticket” to an Employment Network (EN) of your choice. The EN is the party responsible for providing the services listed above.

In return for receiving career services, you are expected to meet specific employment goals outlined by the EN. These goals are designed to help you find and maintain employment so that you reduce your dependence on disability benefits. 

Eligibility to Participate 

To participate in the Ticket to Work program, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 64
  • Receive SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits

Your eligibility for the program is verified by the Employment Network you choose to utilize. You do not need to have a paper Ticket to begin; simply call the Ticket to Work program at 1 (866) 968-7842 (1-866-833-2967 TTY) to verify your program eligibility.

How to Sign Up

To get started in the Ticket to Work Program, call the main hotline at 1 (866) 968-7842 (1-866-833-2967 TTY) to verify your eligibility. A customer service representative will discuss the program and answer any questions you may have. You can request that a list of providers in your area be mailed to you, or elect to search for providers on your own. 

Continue reading the section below to learn how to find Ticket to Work Providers.

How to Find Ticket to Work Providers

After verifying your eligibility by calling the Ticket to Work hotline, the next step is choosing a provider to work with. You have several options when choosing a provider, each of which provides different services and benefits. 

Employment Networks (EN)

Employment Networks, or ENs, are public or private organizations that work with Social Security to provide free employment support services to disabled workers. Some ENs work with only the local community while others partner with state agencies to expand outreach. 

Workforce Agencies (WA)

Workforce Agencies are ENs that also partner with the state and are part of the state’s public workforce system. These agencies can be operated at the state level by a workforce agency or Workforce Investment Board (WIB) or at the local level by an American Job Center or a local WIB.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are operated at the state level and offer a wide array of services. Aside from employment-specific services, VR agencies focus on rehabilitation to help you transition to independence.

The table below outlines the different provider categories available to you and corresponding services.

Employment Networks (EN)Workforce Agencies (WA)State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies
Work Incentives Counseling
Career Planning 
Job Search/ Placement
Continuing Employment Support
Training Programs
Assistance With Accommodations 
Special Veteran and Youth Programs
Tuition Support for College Coursework
Rehabilitation Services

If you are still unsure of the type of provider that can benefit you, the SSA has a guided search option tool that allows you to answer several questions and get matched with the right type of provider. Access the tool here: http://app.keysurvey.com/f/1142311/133f/.

Once you have decided the type of provider you wish to work with, you need to find one in your area. You can use the SSA’s direct search tool to find providers in your area. Access the direct search tool here: https://choosework.ssa.gov/findhelp/result?p_sort=alphabetical&option=2&resStr=en,wf&p_pagesize=25&p_pagenum=1.

Assigning a Ticket

When you find a provider, you must assign your Ticket to that provider so you can receive free employment services. The provider is responsible for assigning it and notifying the SSA. To assign your Ticket, contact your desired provider and notify them that you would like to utilize their services. Providers will first check to make sure your Ticket has not already been assigned to another provider. 

If you need to unassign your Ticket, continue reading the section below.

Unassigning a Ticket

If you have previously assigned your Ticket and wish to change providers, you may do so at any time using the Ticket Unassignment Form here: https://choosework.ssa.gov/Assets/cw/docs-materials/Ticket-Unassignment-Form.pdf 

SSDI Fraud

When you apply for Social Security benefits, you are legally required to provide accurate information regarding all aspects of the application. Making false claims, misrepresenting yourself or withholding information is considered fraud, which is a crime. Committing SSDI fraud may subject you to fines or imprisonment. Continue reading the sections below to learn more about SSDI fraud.

How to Report SSDI Fraud

If you suspect someone is committing SSDI fraud, you must report it to the SSA immediately. 

To report by phone, call the Office of the Inspector General’s fraud hotline at 1 (800) 269-0271.

To report online, submit a fraud report on the Office of the Inspector General’s website here: https://oig.ssa.gov. You can choose to remain anonymous, in which case the SSA will not contact you for further information. Or, you can choose to remain confidential, which means the SSA can reach out to you but cannot share your name or data. 

Unless you choose to remain anonymous, you will need to provide the following information to submit a fraud report:

  • Your name
  • Valid email address
  • 10-digit phone number
  • Home address
  • Social Security Number 
  • Name of person or business committing fraud
  • Summary of suspected fraud

Penalties of SSDI Fraud

Depending on the type or frequency of fraud that is committed, the SSA imposes the following penalties:

  • Up to five years in prison
    • Up to 10 years in prison for individuals in positions of trust, like doctors, current or former SSA employees, claimant representatives or translators
  • Up to a $250,000 fine
  • Both imprisonment and a fine

In addition, individuals who commit fraud may have to make restitution, which is a payment to a victim of fraud who suffered a monetary loss. So, beneficiaries who received a benefit payment due to fraud are often required to pay restitution back to the Commissioner of Social Security.

Did you find this information useful?

Thanks for your feedback!

You also may be interested in

View all