Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a type of government assistance benefit provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Most people don’t want to think about the idea of becoming disabled, but studies show that 25 percent of 20-year-old workers will be disabled prior to reaching the age of retirement.

Disability statistics may be frightening, but they highlight the importance of learning about disability benefits and planning ahead for any possibility. 

The SSA offers many different resources that help you plan for life changes such as retirement, disability and more. However, the amount of information available can be overwhelming if you are just beginning to learn about SSDI. Below, learn six of the most important things you need to know about SSDI when getting started. 

1. You Must Have a Qualifying Disability 

Under federal law, the SSA has to have a very specific definition of “disability.” In order to be considered disabled for SSDI, all of the following points must be true: 

  • You are not able to work because you have a medical condition. 
  • Your medical condition is expected to last for more than a year, or result in death. 
  • You do not have a partial disability. 
  • You have not reached retirement age yet. 

While other government or community programs may have broader definitions of disability, the SSA is required to follow these strict rules when determining who is eligible for SSDI. With that in mind, you may be eligible for other programs even if your disability does not meet the SSA’s definition. 

2. You Must Work Long Enough to Be Qualified 

SSDI benefits are something that you earn if you have worked and paid Social Security taxes for long enough. However, you can also earn SSDI based on the work record of certain family members. Furthermore, disabled adult children can also receive benefits for a disability that started before 18 years of age. 

It is important to understand that you earn “credits” for each quarter of a year that you work. To get SSDI, you need anywhere from 20 to 40 credits depending on your age. In general, the younger you are when you become disabled, the fewer credits you need to in order to qualify. 

3. You Can Apply as Soon as You Become Disabled 

Unlike some types of government benefits, there is no waiting period before you can apply for SSDI. Instead, you are eligible to apply as soon as you meet the requirements.

However, the caveat is that there is a six-month period of time before your benefits will actually begin. The waiting period doesn’t start until the first full month after the date your disability began, as determined by the SSA. 

4. You May Also Qualify for Supplemental Security Income

Depending on your circumstances, you may find that you are dually eligible for SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While these programs are somewhat similar, SSI differs because it is a type of benefit for people who are elderly or disabled and also have a low income. Therefore, if you have a low income and a disability, you may be eligible to receive benefits from both programs. In some cases, you can apply for SSI and SSDI benefits using a single application. 

5. You Can Receive Medicare While on SSDI  

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people who are disabled, retired or have certain medical conditions. Medicare coverage starts automatically once you have received disability benefits for two years. You will get a Medicare card in the mail as soon as you are eligible for coverage.

Before you enroll in Medicare, it is important to learn about the different options you have for health coverage. You automatically receive Medicare Part A and Part B, which is hospital insurance and medical insurance.

However, you may decide that a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan is better for you. Depending on your needs, you may decide that Medicare Part D, or prescription drug coverage, is necessary as well.

6. You Can Return to Work With SSDI 

Through the SSA’s Ticket to Work program, you can undergo job training and get other services that will help you return to work if you have a disability. Returning to work is a personal decision that may not be right for everyone. 

However, Ticket to Work allows you can gain financial independence and transition to earning your own income rather than relying on SSDI if you wish. While enrolled in Ticket to Work, you may still receive your benefits and medical coverage as long as you meet the program requirements. 

7. SSDI Benefits Can Change to Retirement Benefits 

If you are receiving SSDI when you reach retirement age, your benefits will automatically change into retirement benefits instead. It is important to be aware that when this happens, the amount of your benefits does not change.