A woman using a wheelchair looks up at a dry erase board.

Things to Think About Before Applying for Disability Benefits

By Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security is with you throughout life’s journey. We’re here for you if the unexpected happens. We are there for you when you finally stop working as well. We provide vital financial support to tens of millions of American workers, primarily through retirement benefits. But we’re also there for you if the unexpected happens and a serious medical condition stops you from working and being able to support yourself and your family.

In such cases, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits, which replace a portion of lost income when a worker becomes seriously disabled. Here are three of the key factors we use to determine if you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits:

  • You must have a lasting medical condition so severe that it prevents you from doing the work that you did in the past or adjusting to other types of work;
  • Your physical or mental impairment(s) must have lasted or be expected to last at least a year or result in death; and
  • You must have worked long enough — and recently enough — in jobs covered by Social Security.

To learn more about disability benefits, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

You become eligible for Social Security benefits by working and paying FICA taxes, which translate into Social Security “credits.” How many credits you need to receive disability benefits depends on how old you are when you become disabled.

For example, if you become disabled at age 31 or older, you generally must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled. Twenty credits are equal to five years of substantial earnings. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

To see how many credits you have earned and to estimate future benefits, please log in to or create your my Social Security online account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Those who have not worked enough to qualify for Social Security benefits may be eligible for help through our Supplemental Security Income program, or “SSI.” SSI provides financial assistance to disabled children and adults, as well as the aged and blind people, who have little or no income or resources. Learn more about SSI at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.

Social Security helps you and millions of other Americans secure today and tomorrow by providing important financial benefits, information, and planning tools. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov 

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