Social Security benefits provide financial relief to those people who cannot work due to disability, illness, or impairment. The criteria for qualification for SSA benefits vary from year to year and the monthly amount you qualify for depends on a number of factors.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) based on the applicant’s average lifetime earnings prior to their disability. The SSA calculates Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits based on a set benefit amount, minus any sum that the SSA deems to be countable income.
Determining the amount of your benefit requires a series of complex calculations. Before calculating the anticipated amount of your benefits, however, you must determine which type you plan to apply for. As long as you meet the qualification requirements for both SSDI and SSI, the SSA allows you to apply for both types of benefits.
For help understanding disability benefits, contact Berger and Green. Our disability attorneys can explain how the SSA will calculate your monthly benefit amount. Call 412-661-1400 today for help with your claim.
What are the differences between SSI and SSDI?
It is important to understand the differences between SSDI and SSI to ensure that you apply for the correct type of benefit. To qualify for either program, you must have a verifiable medical condition and meet the SSA’s income restrictions.
SSDI pays disability benefits to disabled workers, widowed disabled spouses, and disabled adult children, provided they meet the work history requirements of the program.
The SSA tracks the amount of work credits you have earned throughout your career. You accumulate between one and four work credits for each year that you work and pay into the system, depending on your income and the amount of taxes you pay on each paycheck. If you work long enough, you will have paid enough money into the system and earned enough work credits to qualify.
SSI is a needs-based federal program for low-income, disabled individuals and those age 65 or older. SSI benefits allow the recipient to afford basic needs such as housing, food, and clothing. A general tax fund pays for this benefit. Recipients must meet the program’s income and asset restrictions. For disabled children, the parents must meet income and asset guidelines.
How does the SSA calculate is SSDI benefits?
The SSA calculates SSDI based on your average income in the years leading up to your disability, taking into account how much you have contributed to Social Security. The amount of your earnings does influence the amount of your benefit, although there are benefit caps on both the upper and lower ends of the income spectrum.
SSA considers your income over the years you worked and how much you paid into the system, and averages them over a period of years. This calculation is the Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) and its purpose is to standardize your earnings amount over time.
Next, SSA applies a complex formula to your AIME to determine your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). This formula relies on set dollar amounts—known as bend points—that change each year.
For 2017, the SSA calculates your PIA using the first $885 of your AIME, the amount between $885 and $5,336, and the amount above $5,336. So, your PIA would be the total of:
- 90 percent of the first $885 of your AIME; plus
- 32 percent of your AIME above $885 and below $5336; plus
- 15 percent of your AIME above $5,336.
To determine your PIA, you would apply these percentages to your AIME and note the total.
How is SSI calculated?
SSI benefits are much easier to calculate than SSDI benefits.
The SSA establishes base SSI benefit amounts each year and publishes that information on its website. The amount of SSI that you will receive is the listed amount minus any countable income. Countable income is your total income minus any allowable income exclusions for both earned and unearned income.
SSA defines income as any money you receive, plus food, shelter, and any non-money items you receive that you can use for food or shelter.
Earned income exclusions include the following:
- The first $65 you earn each month plus one-half of the remainder of your monthly income;
- Impairment-related work expenses for disabled and blind individuals;
- Income saved or set aside to help achieve self-support for a disabled or blind individual; and
- The first $30 of irregular income you receive in a quarter.
Unearned income exclusions include the following:
- The first $20 you earn per month;
- Income set aside for achieving self-support by a disabled or blind individual;
- Needs-based assistance from a state or local agency;
- Rent subsidies from federal programs and the value of food stamps; and
- The first $60 of your quarterly irregular income.
The SSA’s rules regarding SSI income exclusions can be hard to follow. Our disability attorneys can look at your family’s finances to determine how much of your income counts as an allowable exclusion.
How do I apply for SSI or SSDI?
To apply for SSDI disability benefits, you can initiate the application process online at the SSA website or by visiting your local office. The SSI application cannot be completed online at this time.
Before you attempt the application process on your own, however, consider contacting the disability attorneys at Berger and Green. The process is complex and approval is difficult to obtain, but we can help improve your chances of approval. If the SSA denies your application, we can represent you in the SSDI or SSI appeals process.
How do I choose a disability lawyer?
Applying for Social Security disability benefits is arguably one of the most complex processes you may ever encounter. Even calculating your approximate monthly benefit can present a challenge. The application process is equally challenging and even a minor error may lead to a denial of benefits.
To help ensure that you receive the SSA disability benefits you deserve, trust the disability lawyers at Berger and Green to help you. We understand the complexity of SSA disability cases and we work hard to make the process as easy as possible for you. We will help ensure that your claim is accurate and free of errors, increasing your likelihood of approval.
We provide free case evaluations and do not charge attorney fees unless you get benefits. Contact us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule your appointment or to speak to a lawyer.