Determining benefit awards

Seeking Social Security Disability benefits can be an arduous task, as any Chicago Social Security attorney knows. Before applying for benefits, many people in Illinois want to know how much support they may qualify for. Prospective applicants can start by understanding how base benefits are calculated and why those awards may be adjusted.

Benefit calculations

SSD benefits are awarded based on personal earnings records. Financial need and the severity of the disability are not taken into account. If an individual paid Social Security taxes during a job, the employment is included in the earnings record. Work for employers that do not pay Social Security taxes, such as government agencies, is excluded.

The SSA calculates an individual’s average monthly earnings to determine whether the individual qualifies for SSD benefits. In 2014, the SSA counts $1,200 of income as a credit and requires individuals to have 40 credits. Applicants also must have earned half of their credits during the decade before disability onset.

To determine the benefit amount, the SSA uses an income-weighted system. Several resources can help people estimate SSD benefits under this system, including:

  • Benefits calculators. These are available on the SSA website and allow individuals to enter earnings history to generate estimates.
  • Social Security statements. These are also accessible through the SSA website. Each statement includes an estimated benefits section, based on the SSA’s earnings record.
  • Direct contact with the SSA. Applicants can call a local office and get an estimate from a representative.

Besides using these resources to estimate base benefits, individuals may want to consider factors that could increase or reduce their benefits.

Variables affecting benefits

The benefit amount may be decreased if an individual receives other government-regulated disability benefits, such as state disability or workers’ compensation. Public disability benefits are capped at 80 percent of the individual’s income. However, other benefits, including private disability insurance and VA benefits, will not affect the SSD benefit.

Some individuals may qualify for greater awards in the form of back payments or retroactive benefits. Back payments cover the gap between the SSD application and approval dates. Retroactive benefits address the gap between the disability onset and application date.

The mandatory waiting period for disability claims is 5 months. Therefore, back payments are not made if processing took less than 5 months. Similarly, retroactive benefits are not available if the disability began within 5 months of the application date.

Retroactive benefits can cover up to 12 months before the date of application. However, the SSA assumes that the application date is the disability onset date. Establishing an earlier onset date can be difficult; individuals planning to challenge the onset date may need to seek assistance from an attorney.