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Social Security Q&A: How Disability Is Decided

Question: How does Social Security decide whether I am disabled?

Answer: For an adult, disability under Social Security law is based on your inability to work because of a disabling condition.

To be considered disabled, Social Security must determine that because of one or more disabling conditions you are unable to do the work you did before and unable to adjust to any other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Also, your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability (less than a year). For more information, read Disability Benefits, available online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Q: What is the earliest age that I can receive Social Security disability benefits?

A: There is no minimum age as long as you meet the strict Social Security definition of disability and you have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels go up.

The number of work credits you need for Social Security disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. For example, if you are under age 24, you may qualify with as little as six credits. But people disabled at age 31 or older generally need between 20 and 40 credits, and some of the work must have been recent. For example, you would need to have worked five out of the past 10 years.

Note that eligibility requirements are different for Supplemental Security Income, which does not depend on work credits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.

Q: What’s the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker? How is the retirement benefit amount calculated?

A: The current average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is $1,294.

Social Security benefits are based on earnings averaged over most of a worker’s lifetime. Your actual earnings are first adjusted or “indexed” to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received.

The Social Security Administration calculates your average monthly indexed earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. A formula is applied to these earnings to arrive at your basic benefit amount.

Q: I run a bed and breakfast. By this time every year, I am tired of all the paperwork involved with filing taxes. Is there an easier way for small businesses to file W-2s for their employees?

A: Absolutely. If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur, you should check out Social Security’s Business Services Online website. There, you can file your employees’ W-2s and W-2cs electronically and print out the W-2s to provide paper copies to your employees. You also can verify the Social Security numbers of your employees. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/bso.

This column was prepared by the Social Security Administration. For more information, call 800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov.