Social Security Disability benefits are notoriously difficult for applicants to receive. Typically, around 70% of applicants are denied benefits during the first application.
Some people are denied benefits because the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t perceive the applicant’s injury to be a disability. Others may simply make too much money to qualify for benefits.
In addition to demonstrating that you’ve suffered a disability, applicants must also complete three earnings tests. Passing these tests is a critical step in ultimately determining whether you are eligible for benefits.
Gainful activity test
In order to receive disability benefits, you must not engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). When determining whether someone is engaging in SGA, the SSA looks at how much in monthly income a person has earned. In 2017, monthly income exceeding $1,170 would be considered an SGA. Those earning more than $1,170 will generally be ineligible for benefits.
If you are blind, the earnings limit increases to $1,950 per month. These numbers are annually adjusted for inflation.
Recent work test
People must have been recently working in order to qualify for disability benefits. Depending on the age you were disabled, you’ll have had to work for a minimum amount of time to be eligible.
- If you suffered the disability prior to turning 24, you’ll need to have worked for 1.5 years in the three years preceding your disability.
- If you suffered the disability from age 24-30, you’ll have had to work half the time from the time you turned 21 to the time of your disability. For example, if you suffered a disability when you turned 29, you’ll need to have worked four years during the eight years after you turned 21.
- If you suffered the disability at age 31 or older, you’ll need to have worked five years out of the 10 years preceding your disability.
Duration of work test
The final test looks at how much you’ve worked over the course of your lifetime. The older you are when you suffered the disability, the longer you’ll have had to work.
If you suffered the disability before turning 28, you’ll typically need to have worked 1.5 years during your lifetime. On the other end of the spectrum, if you were 60 when you suffered the disability, you’ll need to have worked 9.5 years.
Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be an intimidating process. Remember that even if you’re initially denied benefits, there are still steps you can take to potentially receive benefits in the future.