Social Security Disability Benefits

The amount of your monthly disability benefit is based on your lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security. The amount of benefit depends on your work and earnings history that was reported to Social Security and your age when you become disabled.

The SSA website provides a Disability Planner to help you determine how much you will receive.

Many figures used to calculate Social Security Disability benefits are revised annually by the Social Security Administration (SSA), the federal agency that administers the program. You can find the figures on the SSA website or by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, or TTY at 1-800-325-0778 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, Eastern time.

When you start receiving disability benefits, certain members of your family also may qualify for benefits on your record.

The SSA has a Disability Starter Kit to help you get ready for your disability interview or online application. Kits are available for adults and for children under age 18.

The starter kits provide information about the specific documents and the information that the SSA will request from you. They will ask for more details during your interview or when you complete the online Disability Report.

The kits also provide general information about the disability programs and the decision-making process that can help take some of the mystery out of applying for disability benefits.


The definition of disability under Social Security is different than other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

"Disability" under Social Security is based on your inability to work. The SSA considers you disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • You cannot do work that you did before;
  • It is determined that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

(There are additional ways that you may qualify for benefits based on your age.  If you are over age 50, you may prove disability based on grid rules if you are limited to unskilled sedentary work. If you are over 55, you may prove disability based on grid rules if you are limited to either unskilled sedentary or light duty work.)

This is a strict definition of disability. The Maryland Medical Assistance Program also uses this definition of disability from the Social Security Act.

To be eligible for disability benefits, you must show that you worked and paid into the Social Security system for five of the last ten years. The five year requirement is a flexible one depending on how long ago your disability began.

The Social Security Disability Benefits program has additional guidelines that may affect your eligibility. 

Income Eligibility:

In 2018, if you are working and your earnings average more than $1,180 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. If you are blind or have low vision, your monthly earnings limit will be higher.

If you are getting other government benefits, the amount of your Social Security disability benefits may be affected.

Apply at:

Your local Social Security office or online. Locate your local office here:

The SSA allows you to apply online and offers information and assistance with the process.

  • You can appeal any denial, termination, or reduction of benefits
  • You must file an appeal within 60 days of the date of the written notice with which you disagree.
  • In addition, you have a 5 day "grace period" to allow for the mailing of the notice to you, making the total amount of time you have to file an appeal 60+5 days.
  • Call your local Social Security office if you need help with your appeal.

There is more information on the appeals process here:

Sources of Law:

Federal Law: 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 to 434, specifically "§ 423. Disability insurance benefit payments"

Federal Regulations:  Generally, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1 to 404.2127.

The law and regulations are long and complicated, so it is hard to get a quick overview or to find any specific topic. The best way to get quick, clear information is The Social Security Handbook


You can get forms, pamphlets, and much more from the disability section of the Social Security Administration's web site.

Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2019.”