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What is Social Security disability insurance?

If you’re hurt and can’t work, you may be able to collect disability benefits from Social Security (as long as you meet the work and earnings requirements).

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Andrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

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Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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Social Security disability insurance, or SSDI, is a type of disability insurance provided by the federal government. It pays you monthly benefits while you’re out of work because of an injury or illness. SSDI is free, but it’s hard to qualify for.

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SSDI benefits are usually for low amounts and hard to qualify for, so a private disability insurance policy, which offers more protection, is better financial security (although the cost can be prohibitive for some).

How much does Social Security Disability Insurance pay?

Social Security pays a monthly disability benefit (meaning a payment) if you qualify for coverage. As of September 2023, the average SSDI payment is $1,487 a month, or up to $2,460 per month for people who are blind or have low vision. [1]

You can start to receive benefits after a five-month waiting period, also called an elimination period. You also might be able to get SSDI benefits for the time before you applied, depending on the onset of your injury or illness.

Social Security pays disability benefits for as long as you can’t work, though your benefits may be lower if you get other payments, like workers’ compensation or a pension from a company that didn’t withhold any taxes from your pay for Social Security. [2]

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) vs. SSDI

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, isn’t the same as SSDI. Both SSDI and SSI come from the Social Security Administration, but eligibility for SSI is based on income, not your work history.

As of 2023, the maximum monthly federal SSI amounts are:

  • $943 for individuals

  • $1,415 for an individual with an eligible spouse

  • $458 for an essential person living with the eligible individual

Can my family use my SSDI benefits?

Some members of your family may be eligible to receive disability benefits if you’re disabled, including your:

  • Spouse who’s 62 or older

  • Spouse who’s caring for a disabled child

  • Child who’s not disabled

  • Unmarried, disabled adult child as long as they were disabled before 22

If you’re a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse you can also be eligible for SSDI benefits if you’re between 50 and 60 and became disabled at least 7 years after your spouse’s death.

Who can get Social Security disability insurance?

To get disability benefits from Social Security, your injury or illness must be expected to keep you out of work for at least a year, or result in your death.

You also have to meet work and earnings requirements in order to qualify for SSDI. [3] The amount of time you have to work is tied to “work credits.” You can get up to 4 credits in one year by earning $6,560.

The exact amount of time you have to have worked to qualify for SSDI depends on when you became disabled and how many years you worked before that point. It can be complicated, but some general guidelines are:

Age of disability onset

How many years of work you need to qualify for SSDI

Before 28

1.5 years



























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How does Social Security decide whether I’m disabled?

If you meet the basic medical and work requirements, the Social Security Administration sends your case to your state’s disability office. From there, your state’s disability office uses a five-point process to check if you qualify for benefits.

  1. Are you working? Even if you’re working, you might still be eligible even if you make less than a certain amount of money a month.

  2. Is your condition severe? A “severe” condition means you can’t do basic activities, like lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering.

  3. Is your condition found on a list of disabilities? The SSA has a long list of injuries and illnesses that make you eligible for disability insurance, including soft-tissue injuries, cancer, epilepsy, and many others.

  4. Can you do the work you used to do? If your disability isn’t listed but is still serious, the SSA checks whether the condition prevents you from doing any past work.

  5. Can you do other types of work? If you can’t do any past work, and it’s decided that you can’t do another job, your application will be approved and you will get a letter explaining your benefits.

What you need to apply for SSDI

You can apply for SSDI by going online or calling toll-free at 1-800-772-1213, or by visiting your local Social Security office. Before you apply, you have to fill out a form with information about yourself, your family, your disability, your health, and your job history.

It’s easier to apply for SSDI if you’re ready with the following information:

  • Your Social Security Number

  • Names and contact information for your doctors and caseworkers

  • Names and dosages for all of the medications you take

  • Medical records from your healthcare providers

  • Lab test results

  • A copy of your most up-to-date W-2 form

You also have to give details about how your medical condition affects the work you can do, plus you have to give the Social Security Administration permission to get other forms from your doctors.

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What happens if you’re denied Social Security disability benefits?

If you’re denied Social Security benefits, you can appeal your rejection. [4] There are four ways that you can appeal a rejection for SSDI:

  1. Request a reconsideration: Ask for your original application to be reviewed within 60 days after your first decision.

  2. Request a hearing in court: If you’re not happy with your reconsideration, request a hearing from a judge to review your application.

  3. Request a review by an appeals council: You can ask the SSA’s Appeals Council to review the judge’s decision if you’re not happy with it.

  4. File a lawsuit in federal court: You can even ask the SSA to help you file the lawsuit in court.

SSDI and private disability insurance

Private disability insurance is different from SSDI. Private disability insurance comes in short-term and long-term versions, and both should cover about 60% of your salary if you’re out of work because of an injury or illness. 

You can also customize your private disability policy, unlike with SSDI. You can even add supplemental disability protection or special riders to increase your coverage.

Another difference between the two is cost. A long-term disability policy isn’t free like SSDI; a personal disability insurance policy costs about 1% to 3% of your annual income. Long-term disability insurance is the best option if you have a high-paying or specialized job, like a surgeon or lawyer.

If you want the protection of a private disability insurance policy, a Policygenius expert can help you find the disability insurance company that works best for you and answer questions about coverage options.

→ Read more about how SSDI and long-term disability insurance compare

What is a social benefits offset rider?

A social benefits rider is a part of your personal policy policy that means your insurance company can lower your long-term benefits by the amount you get from Social Security. It’s why your long-term disability insurance company will probably require you to apply for SSDI at the same time you file a claim for long-term benefits. 

The upside to the rider is that you get a discount on the cost of your long-term disability coverage if you collect SSDI benefits.

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Frequently asked questions

Is it quicker to get disability insurance through Social Security or a private policy?

You have to wait at least 5 months after the onset of your disability to get benefits through Social Security. You can pick your waiting period on a private policy, so it can be shorter. But it’s more expensive to choose a shorter waiting period.

Does Social Security help you find work if you’re disabled?

Social Security offers the Ticket to Work program to help you find work if you’re disabled. Ticket to Work lets you test whether you can return to work while you’re disabled — and during your testing period you can still get your SSDI benefits.

What does SSDI pay out?

While your exact SSDI benefit depends on how long you worked, the average benefit is $1,487 a month.


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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of oureditorial standards.

  1. Social Security Administration

    . "

    Disabled workers average benefits

    ." Accessed October 19, 2023.

  2. Social Security Administration

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    Windfall Eliminaiton Provision

    ." Accessed October 20, 2023.

  3. Social Security Administration

    . "

    Social Security Credits

    ." Accessed October 20, 2023.

  4. Social Security Administration

    . "

    How to Appeal an SSDI Decision

    ." Accessed October 20, 2023.


Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.


Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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