Being diagnosed with a medical or mental health condition can be difficult. It can also be scary, particularly when your symptoms are severe enough that you might not be able to work. Fortunately, there are safety nets in place – such as disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) offers monthly cash benefits to eligible applicants. To qualify for SSDI, you must have paid into the system by earning credits through working. You must also qualify as disabled under the SSA’s definition, and be unable to work because of your disability.
Bross & Frankel advocates for people with disabilities throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We can assist you at any stage of the process, from an initial disability claim to an appeal of a disability benefits denial. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review with a Social Security disability lawyer, reach out to our law firm today.
What Is SSDI?
Social Security Disability Insurance – commonly referred to as SSDI – is a program offered through the Social Security Administration that pays financial benefits to people who cannot work due to a disability. This disability may be related to a medical condition like diabetes or a mental health condition such as depression. The key is proving that you have a disability based on objective medical evidence, and demonstrating that you cannot work because of that disability.
SSDI is one of two disability benefits programs administered by the SSA. The other program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is available to disabled individuals with limited income and few assets who cannot work. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for both SSDI and SSI benefits.
The Social Security Disability Income program is funded by payroll taxes that are paid by both employers and workers at a current rate of 6.2%. When you work (or are self-employed), you pay into the SSDI system through these taxes, which are also referred to as Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes. You also earn “credits” based on your total wages and/or self-employment income for the year. You can earn up to 4 credits per year, which are then used to determine your eligibility for SSDI benefits.
As discussed in greater detail below, you must qualify for SSDI benefits based on criteria set out by the SSA. If you are approved for benefits, the amount of disability benefits that you will receive will vary based on your lifetime earnings. In 2023, the average disability benefit was $1,483.11 per month.
SSDI is an important program that provides a financial safety net for millions of Americans. If you are considering applying for Social Security disability, reach out to a disability attorney to schedule a free initial consultation.
How Do I Qualify for SSDI?
To be eligible for disability, you must prove that you are disabled. The SSA uses a five-step sequential process to determine if a person is disabled:
- If you are working, you cannot earn more than an average of $1,470 (in 2023) per month (known as substantial gainful employment, or SGA). If you are not working, then the SSA’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) will decide your condition;
- Your impairment or combination of impairments must significantly limit your ability to perform basic work, and must be expected to last for a year or longer or to result in death;
- Your impairment must meet or exceed all of the requirements on the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, or it must have other factors that equal a medical condition on the list;
- If your impairment does not meet this criterion, then it must prevent you from performing any of your past work; and
- You must not be able to do any other type of work, based on your impairment, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills.
If the SSA decides that you are disabled based on medical evidence, vocational information, and other documentation, then you may qualify for SSDI. However, because SSDI is an insurance program, you must also have paid enough into the system to be eligible for benefits.
As a general rule, you must earn at least 40 Social Security credits to qualify for disability benefits. As noted above, you can earn up to 4 credits per year based on your wages and/or self-employment income for the year. In 2023, you will earn 1 credit for each $1,640 in covered earnings.
While 40 credits is usually the amount that you need to qualify for SSDI, this number changes for younger people. Because you may not have had an opportunity to earn 40 credits, you may need as little as 6 credits (if you are under the age of 24) in order to qualify. A Social Security disability lawyer can help you determine if you have enough credits to be approved for SSDI benefits.
If you do not have sufficient credits to qualify for SSDI, you may still qualify for SSI benefits. Both Social Security disability programs rely on the same definition of disabled. However, with SSI, you do not need to have a work history to be eligible for benefits.
Determining if you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits can be complicated, particularly when you are already dealing with health issues. If you are thinking of applying for Social Security disability, an experienced SSDI lawyer can help you figure out if you’re eligible and work with you to file your application.
How Can a Social Security Disability Lawyer Help?
You are not required to work with an SSDI attorney to apply for disability benefits. However, it is often a good idea to consult with a lawyer before beginning the process. If you have already filed an initial application, you can still work with an attorney if your claim is denied.
An SSDI lawyer will help you understand the type of medical records and other evidence necessary that you need to qualify for benefits. Most initial applications for Social Security disability are denied. Working with an attorney is one of the best ways to increase the likelihood that your disability claim will be approved because they will ensure that your application is filled out properly and supported by medical and vocational evidence.
If your claim has been denied, then you can still file an appeal with the help of an SSDI lawyer. There are 4 levels of appeal with the SSA:
- Request for Reconsideration;
- Request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ);
- Request review by the SSA Appeals Council; and
- File a lawsuit in federal court.
There are strict time limits for each level of appeal, as well as rules about what types of evidence can be introduced and how the appeal will be conducted. Your attorney will put together the right documentation, make sure that the appeal is filed on time, and will advocate for you before the SSA, an ALJ, or in court.
Interested in Applying for SSDI? Call Bross & Frankel.
The prospect of applying for SSDI benefits can be daunting, particularly if you are already dealing with a new or worsening diagnosis. Our law offices will stand by your side throughout the process, helping you avoid some of the most common pitfalls and fighting for your right to disability benefits.
At Bross & Frankel, we have helped thousands of people get Social Security disability and other types of disability benefits. Our SSDI lawyers have decades of combined experience advocating for people with disabilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review with a Cherry Hill disability attorney, give us a call at 866-708-3503 or fill out our online contact form.
How Can I Afford to Hire an SSDI Attorney?
Most SSDI lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you won’t pay anything upfront. Instead, you will pay a percentage of any back pay award that you may receive if your application is approved. The SSA caps this amount at the lesser of 25% of a back pay award or $7,200.
This system ensures that people who need legal representation to file an application for disability benefits can receive it, even if they don’t have the money to pay an hourly fee. In New Jersey or Pennsylvania, call Bross & Frankel to schedule a free claim review with an SSDI lawyer.
Do I Have to Be Out of Work for a Year Before I Apply for SSDI Benefits?
No. You can apply for disability benefits if you have a disability that is expected to last for 12 months or longer, or if it is terminal. Under these rules, you don’t have to wait until you have been out of work for a year or more to apply. If you are or become disabled, then you can apply for benefits when you are not able to work because of your symptoms.
An SSDI attorney can help you put together the necessary paperwork for your initial application. They can also assist you with an appeal, if necessary. To learn more or to schedule a free claim review, contact Bross & Frankel today.
Related: Do You Qualify for Disability Benefits? Take Our Quiz