Requirements for Social Security Disability Benefits

social security disability claimThe Social Security Administration (SSA) provides monthly financial benefits to disabled individuals who are unable to work or earn a sufficient income due to a disabling condition.

There are two types of benefits offered: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Although there is a list of disabilities that automatically qualify for disability benefits, most applicants must prove to the SSA that their disability severely limits their ability to function and engage in work-related activity.

If you have a disability that prevents you from working or severely limits your functional abilities, you will need to understand the SSA’s rules and requirements for filing a Social Security Disability benefits claim.

SSDI Benefits

SSDI is a monthly payment provided to those who are unable to work because of a mental or physical disability.

Individuals who are filing a claim for SSDI benefits must meet the strict qualifications required by the SSA: You must have a long-term debilitating condition and have worked long enough to earn the required amount of work credits to be considered “insured” by the SSA.

Work Credits to Qualify for SSDI Benefits

The process to receive SSDI benefits begins long before you become disabled. A candidate must have been employed in a job that paid taxes into Social Security for a certain period of time.

As you paid into Social Security, you earned work credits based on your total annual wages or self-employment income.

Depending on the individual’s age, the SSA requires applicants to have earned 20 to 40 credits throughout his or her employment history to qualify for SSDI benefits, 20 of which should have been earned within the last 10 years of employment prior to developing the disability if you are over the age of 31.

You are able to earn up to four credits each year, but you must earn a certain amount of income to reach the maximum number of credits.

In 2017, one credit is equal to $1,300 in quarterly income, which means you must earn at least $5,200 throughout the year to earn four work credits.

If you are unsure whether you meet the required work credits for SSDI benefits, contact our Social Security disability lawyers. We can help you collect any records of your employment to determine or prove that you are eligible to apply.

Long-Term Disability

In order to qualify for SSDI benefits after you have accumulated the required amount of work credits, you must have a disability that meets the SSA’s standards of a permanent disability. You must meet all of the following conditions in order to be considered permanently disabled:

  • You are unable to perform the functions of your previous job.
  • The SSA decides that your medical condition prevents you from adjusting to other types of work.
  • Your disability, illness or condition is so severe that it is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in your death.

There are specific medical conditions that the SSA has determined will qualify for disability benefits if certain requirements are met. If you have been diagnosed with one of the conditions found on this list, you will likely receive SSDI benefits more quickly.

If you suffer from a long-term disability, our attorneys can help gather the necessary evidence needed to prove your claim so you can obtain the financial support you deserve.

Can You Still Work?

The SSA requires you to have a medical condition severe enough that it completely prevents you from performing the duties of your previous employment.

The SSA will also determine if your condition prevents you from being able to perform any other type of work in other industries or professions.

If the SSA finds that your condition is permanent and severe enough that it prevents you from adjusting to another field of employment, your claim will likely be approved.

We will help you organize all medical records and treatment plans to prove that your disability prevents you from gaining employment and is expected to be permanent or last more than one year.

SSI Benefits

For those who do not meet the work credit requirements for SSDI, you may qualify for SSI.

This is a needs-based program that provides financial support for adults and children who are on a severely limited income and meet one of the following requirements:

  • 65-years or older
  • Blind
  • Disabled

How the SSA Determines Who Qualifies for SSI Benefits

The medical requirements for SSI are the same as for SSDI in that the individual must no longer be able to work in a previous job or any other profession and the condition must be expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.

However, the two programs differ in the non-medical requirements. SSI also requires that your income and the amount of resources you have at your disposal, known as assets, do not exceed a certain limit.


Income includes any cash, checks or other forms of payment that can be exchanged for food and shelter. This can include:

  • Wages from a job
  • Earnings from self-employment
  • Other government benefits, such as veteran’s benefits, retirement or unemployment
  • Money, food or shelter from friends and family
  • Income your spouse earns that is available to you

Some parts of your income are not counted, including:

  • The first $65 of earned income
  • The first $20 of unearned income
  • Food stamps
  • Needs-based assistance from state or local governments
  • Income tax refunds

Your income cannot exceed the federal benefit rate, which is the monthly maximum SSI benefits eligible individuals can receive. In 2017 the federal benefit rate is:

  • $735 for qualifying individuals
  • $1,103 for eligible married couples
  • $368 for essential persons (most often children)


Individuals must also be limited in the resources they have, which refers to the assets an individual owns or anything that can be converted into cash, such as:

  • Vehicles (in some cases)
  • Pensions
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • 401Ks
  • Land
  • Jewelry

The value of your total assets, which includes everything you own, must be less than $2,000 if you are single and less than $3,000 for married couples living together.

Although the value of your assets is under review during an SSI evaluation, the SSA will not consider the value of your home if you still live in it and will usually refrain from including the vehicle you drive.

If you are unsure whether you are able meet the SSA’s standards for SSI benefits, our Social Security disability lawyers will appraise the value of your assets and income to determine if you are qualified to apply.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

You can apply online for Social Security Disability benefits if you meet the proper qualifications for a disability and can provide documented evidence of your medical condition, history of employment, and income and assets.

If you wish to apply in person, you will have to find a local Social Security office in your area. You can also apply over the telephone by calling 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Once you have applied for SSDI or SSI benefits, your application will be reviewed by the Tennessee Disability Determination Services, which is a section within the Division of Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Human Services.

Unfortunately, many applicants are denied during their first attempt to file a Social Security Disability claim. However, a claim can often be appealed or properly refiled with the help of experienced Social Security Disability benefits lawyer.

Our attorneys will be able to help you through every step of the application process to make sure you have all of your documentation ready.

Contact a Knoxville Lawyer for Help Filing a Claim

The claims process for SSI and SSDI benefits can be difficult due to the large amount of documentation and specific qualifications the SSA requires.

Our Knoxville Social Security Disability attorneys will organize your claim to ensure that all medical and employment records are present and that each deadline is met.

If you are concerned whether your disability or work history qualifies you to receive Social Security Disability benefits, contact us to schedule a free consultation. We can help you determine which program you qualify for so that you can receive the benefits you deserve.

We never charge our clients upfront for our legal services and we only require payment if we are successful in helping you recover Social Security Disability benefits.

Complete our Free Case Evaluation form to schedule a no obligation consultation.