Considering disability benefits? Answer these questions first
Age and chronic illness can take a toll. A June 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the costliest health conditions in the U.S. include: heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke and type 2 diabetes. An estimated 117 million people have one or more chronic health conditions.
These health issues also place in the top 10 conditions of former workers who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
Social Security disability is an important alternative for former workers who can no longer work because of a severe health condition. The average SSDI recipient worked 22 years before they experienced a life-changing disability.
“More people are living with chronic illness, and many people do OK with treatment and rehabilitation,” said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of Allsup, a disability benefits representation organization. “But other people have to stop working when their health just won’t let them continue.”
About 154 million workers have paid FICA taxes and have disability insurance coverage through the SSDI program. If you know someone who may qualify, check out the Refer a Friend program. Following are answers to the top five questions about applying for disability benefits.
1) Who applies for disability benefits? People who have experienced a work-disrupting severe health condition that will last for 12 months or longer, or is terminal. They may have a health condition, such as arthritis, a severe spinal condition, cancer, or have experienced a stroke or car accident. On average, former worker recipients are 54 years old. Last year, about 2.3 million former workers with disabilities applied for disability benefits.
2) When should I apply for disability benefits? Generally, you should apply when you cannot work because of your health condition. As soon as you must stop working, it makes sense to apply for Social Security disability benefits if you have solid medical evidence. If you are uncertain of when to apply, you can find help from a disability representation organization that provides free assessments of your likelihood of qualifying for the program.
3) Why should I apply for disability benefits? Most people apply for disability benefits because they need the monthly income. Plus, there are several additional benefits. You can get extra dependent benefits if you have a child under 18. You can get Medicare after 24 months of receiving cash SSDI benefits. You also protect your retirement benefits, and you can receive incentives to return to work. “It’s important not to give up on the idea of returning to work, eventually, because it’s much better for your finances in the long run,” Stein said.
4) How do I apply for disability benefits? Much like filing taxes, you have different options when applying for disability benefits. You can try it on your own, or enlist the help of a professional representative who understands what the Social Security Administration needs to process your claim. Most people who apply on their own are denied at the application level, and must appeal. Having a representative early in the process can improve your chances of approval and help ensure your application is completed properly. Most people have a representative for their hearing.
5) How much money will I receive? Your monthly benefit will be calculated based on your past work earnings and the amount of FICA taxes you paid on those earnings. You can find online calculators that will help you get an estimate of what you can expect to receive before you apply for SSDI.
It can take a long time to receive benefits because the Social Security disability program has stringent rules and several steps in the claim review process.
“Many people make the mistake of waiting to apply for disability,” Stein said. “They deplete their savings, they borrow from their 401(k) plan, and they make other big sacrifices — before they apply for disability benefits. It makes it that much harder when they have to wait months or even years for Social Security to review their claim.”
An important consideration is applying for disability with a representative, Stein said. “If you can receive disability benefits at the very beginning, with your application — you can save yourself many months of time for appeals and possibly avoid a hearing on your disability claim.”
For more information, visit FileSSDI.Allsup.com.