The Social Security Administration’s criteria for whether you qualify for disability benefits can be broken down by these three questions:
1. Are You Working?
In order to be eligible for disability benefits, you must not be working at a level where you are earning substantial gainful activity. This means you are not earning over $1090/month in gross earnings. Ideally, in order to qualify for benefits you would not be working or are working and earning a very minimal amount. You must prove that you have been unable to work for 12 months or that your disability will prevent you from working for 12 months.
Even if you have not been out of work for 12 months, do not let that prevent you from applying for benefits if you think that you will not be able to work for 12 months. That is because the application process is lengthy and often times claimants will be out of work for more than 12 months by the time they receive a resolution in their case.
2. Do You Have a Physical and/or Mental Disability That Is Preventing You From Working?
If you are under age 50 this means you are unable to perform any job in the national economy. The Social Security Administration is concerned with whether you can perform both your past work and all work in the national economy. It is not enough to prove that you cannot perform your past work. You must show that there is no work that you can do because of your disability regardless of whether you have ever performed that work before.
SSA has special rules for claimants who are age 50 and 55, which make it easier to prove disability.
3. Are You Eligible for Benefits?
There are 2 types of benefits: Social Security disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI).
SSD benefits. In order to qualify for SSD benefits you must have earned enough work credits, which are earned through working and paying the Social Security taxes. The general rule of thumb is that you will be eligible if in the past 10 years you have worked full-time at least half of that time. Social Security uses a credit-based system where you earn one credit for every $1,220.00 you earn. You must earn 20 credits to be eligible for benefits. Here is a helpful resource regarding how SSA calculates credits: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10072.pdf
SSI benefits. SSI is based on being both disabled and being in financial need of benefits. This means that you have limited income and assets. SSA will consider your spouse’s income, regular contributions from friends or family and money received from a settlement when determining whether you are eligible. To determine whether you are eligible for SSI, you can contact SSA directly: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityssi/ssi.html