Finally, after many months or years of waiting, you have gotten a letter in the mail from Social Security saying you have been awarded disability benefits. How much will you receive, and will you get back benefits?
How much your monthly disability check will be depends on whether you'll receive Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSD is for workers who are insured under the Social Security retirement system. SSI is for low-income persons with disabilities.
Your SSD check will be based on the average amount of money you earned during your life before you became disabled. Whenever Social Security, or FICA, taxes were withheld from your pay, your earnings will count when calculating your SSD benefit. Similarly, if you paid self-employment taxes on income from a business, those earnings count toward your SSD benefit. But Social Security won’t count any income towards your average you earned that you didn’t pay Social Security taxes on.
For a quick view of your lifetime earnings, you can check your Social Security Earnings Statement. To do this, register for my Social Security Online. Or you can call or visit your local Social Security office to ask for help.
Social Security applies a formula to your average lifetime earnings to calculate the amount of your monthly check. The average SSD payment is currently $1,277. The highest dollar amount you can receive from SSD monthly in 2021 is $3,148.
The SSI program pays a maximum benefit of $794 a month if you are single or $1,191 a month for a couple in 2021. This is the total amount you are eligible to receive, but it will be reduced by certain other benefits or income you may receive.
Specifically, SSI will reduce your maximum monthly benefit by any "countable income" that you receive. Countable income includes veterans disability benefits, unemployment, workers' comp, or Social Security benefits.
Other public benefits such as food stamps or fuel assistance do not count towards your SSI income, and your monthly check will not be reduced because you are receiving these benefits.
If your state participates in the SSI Supplement program, you will also receive an additional payment from your state. Call your local Social Security Office to find out if your state offers a supplement and how much it would be in your situation (the amount of most state supplements depend on your living situation).
Your Social Security Disability payments won't be lowered if you have some income, but Social Security will cut off your benefits if you earn so much income from working that Social Security no longer considers you disabled. Social Security deems a certain monthly income as "Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)."
If you earn less than the SGA (for 2021, it's $1,310 per month), your monthly benefits won't be impacted. If you earn more than that amount, Social Security will give you a trial work period of nine months to see if your return to work will be permanent. After that period if up, your benefits will be terminated if you earn more than the SGA amount.
If you earn income while on SSI, your monthly check will be reduced by the amount of approximately half of your part-time earnings. If you earn too much to continue to qualify under SSI's income limits, your benefits will be terminated.
If you're collecting workers compensation benefits, your disability benefits will be reduced.
Workers' compensation benefits are counted as unearned income toward the SSI income limit and will reduce your SSI check.
If you receive both workers compensation and SSD, your monthly benefits from SSD will be reduced. This is because the Social Security Administration limits the total amount of combined monthly benefits you can receive. However, veterans disability compensation will not lower your SSD check.
The basic rule is that your workers compensation and SSD benefits combined cannot exceed 80% of the “average current earnings” you made before you became disabled, or the total amount your family receives monthly from SSD at the time you get your first workers compensation check, whichever is higher.
If your workers compensation payment and SSD check combined take your monthly payment above 80% of your pre-injury salary, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will reduce your SSDI check so that you receive only 80% of your prior monthly earnings. The specific rules about how workers' compensation reductions are made vary by state.
If instead of receiving monthly workers compensation benefits, you receive a lump sum settlement, your monthly SSD check will still get reduced. The SSA will do this by dividing the total amount of your settlement by the monthly workers' compensation amount you would have received, to figure out how many months you would have gotten checks if you hadn’t taken the settlement. For that period of months, your SSD check will be reduced to bring you within the applicable limits.
You will receive back pay based on what is called your “entitlement date.”
For SSD, your entitlement date is generally five full months after your “date of disability onset” (meaning when your disability first prevented you from working) or twelve months before the date you submitted your application, whichever is later.
Social Security will determine the date of onset of your disability based on the medical evidence the agency has collected about you from your doctors and from hospitals that have treated you. Having to wait five months before getting any benefits basically means your first five months of benefits are withheld.
For SSI benefits, even if your disability began before you applied for benefits, your official date of onset will be sometime after the date you applied. This is because no benefits are paid to SSI recipients for periods before an application for benefits was submitted. Your back payment will be paid from the month after your application date through the date benefits are awarded to you.
For a parent awarded SSD benefits for their adult disabled child, meaning a child over age 18, different rules apply. There is no five month waiting period. However, complex rules determine the “entitlement date.” You may need the assistance of an attorney to understand the benefits your adult child is entitled to.
For disabled parents, back pay for their adult disabled child will not go back any further than 12 months before the parent applied for benefits. If the child does not become disabled until after age 18, the earliest benefit date will be the first full month after the adult child is disabled.
If you are a disabled widow(er), the date you begin to receive benefits depends on whichever of the following happens last:
Updated January 6, 2021