bunch of money and the social security card in the middle

If you’ve worked at a job that pays into the Social Security System and have sustained a disability, you may qualify for maximum Social Security Disability benefit payments. Of course, these benefits are income based and depend on you having paid into the system, among other requirements for qualification.

If you think you may qualify for SSDI after a health condition or injury that can be found on the list of approved conditions, check with an experienced Social Security disability attorney to find out. The attorney will help you determine if you qualify, and will help you calculate how much you might be able to expect in monthly benefits.

What Is the Maximum Social Security Disability Benefit Amount?

While it’s common to ask what the maximum benefit amount will be, Social Security disability benefits will vary between people, and how much they’ve earned and paid into the system. As of 2023 the maximum benefit available to workers is $3627 per month, but the average monthly amount is $1483 per month. In certain circumstances, a disabled worker’s family will also be entitled to disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.  

Regardless of whether you’re applying as an individual worker, or also having family members apply for additional benefits, your income and other factors will determine whether the Social Security Administration will approve your application. Some factors can also alter the amount of money you’re approved to receive in disability benefits.

Maximum Benefit for a Disabled-Worker’s Family

The benefit amount available to a disabled worker’s family will also vary based on the average income of the worker who paid into the Social Security system over the years. The calculation for benefits will first be applied to the worker’s average income, and the amounts available to family who qualify come from that initial amount.

A family receiving a maximum amount of disability benefits monthly will make, in total, around 150% to 180% of the worker’s benefit amount alone. That means if you qualify for the average of $1483 per month as an individual, your maximum family total would be between $2223 and $2670 per month. If you qualify for the maximum amount of $3627 per month, your maximum family total would be between $5440 and $6528 per month in total compensation.

What Determines How Much My Social Security Disability Benefits Will Be?

The amount of your monthly SSDI benefits is called the Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA. The PIA is calculated using 3 percentages from your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings, or AIME. The Social Security Administration uses this index averaging method in order to account for the general rise in your income over the years, and to ensure that your disability benefits increase accordingly in the future. If you have your most recent Social Security statement, it can be helpful in calculating your AIME.

To calculate the Average Indexed Monthly Earnings, the SSA will use up to 35 years of your income. They will, in fact, use the 35 years with the highest income in order to make their calculations. They will add your 35 highest years of income, and then divide the total by the total number of months for the years used. This total will then be rounded down to calculate your AIME.

To convert your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings to your Primary Insurance Amount, the Social Security Administration will use the total of 3 fixed percentages of your AIME.  These percentages are:

  1. 90% of the first $1115 of average indexed monthly earnings
  2. 32% of average indexed monthly earnings between $1116 and $6721
  3. 15% of the average indexed monthly earnings over $6721

These 3 fixed percentages are then added together to determine your PIA, or Primary Insurance Amount.  Any additional disability benefits awarded to qualifying family members will be calculated based on this amount, and will bring the total available benefit amount to between 150% and 180% of the PIA total at maximum.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

All of these calculations will be meaningless if you don’t, in fact, qualify for Social Security disability benefits in the first place. It’s often difficult for applicants to understand the requirements for disability benefits eligibility, and as a result it may be unclear to you whether you qualify. There is a list of questions that must be answered correctly, and you will need to show proof. They are:

  • Are you currently working?
  • Is your condition severe?
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?
  • Can you do the work you did previously?
  • Can you do any other type of work?

Are You Currently Working?

If you are working, and you are not blind, your income will need to fall below the Substantial Gainful Activity Limits or you will not be considered sufficiently disabled. In 2023 The SGA limits are $1470 per month of income.

Is Your Condition Severe?

If the Social Security Administration determines that your condition doesn’t interfere with basic work-related activities for your profession, you will not be considered disabled.

Is Your Condition Found In the List of Disabling Conditions?

The Social Security Administration has a list of disabling medical conditions that qualify for disability. It’s a fairly long list, and if your condition is on this list, you should be able to be automatically qualified as disabled. If your condition is not on this list, however, the Social Security Administration will need to determine if it’s serious enough to qualify. If it’s considered severe enough, your application will be approved. If it isn’t considered severe enough, you’ll be denied.

Can You Do the Work You Did Previously?

If your condition allows you to do the work that you did previously, you will not be considered disabled, and your application will be denied.

Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?

If you can’t do the type of work you did previously, the Social Security Administration will determine whether you can do some other kind of work. They will base this determination on your condition, age, education, previous work experience, and other factors. If they determine that you can adjust to another type of suitable work, your application will be denied. If they determine that this isn’t possible in your situation, you may be approved.

At this point, a call to an experienced Social Security disability lawyer may be wise. A disability lawyer will be able to give you a clearer picture about your qualifying conditions and the chances of approval.  

Applying for Benefits Through SSDI

You can apply for SSDI benefits through the Social Security Administration’s website. Keep in mind that any misstep in the application process can result in a denial, even if you have a qualifying condition and situation. If you’ve already spoken to a social security disability lawyer, he or she would be the ideal resource in making sure that your application is filled out completely and correctly the first time, so you don’t end up needing to appeal simply because the application is incomplete.

Once your application is complete and the review process starts, you’ll likely already have submitted a long, detailed series of medical records relating to your condition. You may find that you are still required to have a Social Security disability medical exam performed. This is a normal part of the process. Your attorney will let you know that you need to make all appointments and return all communication from the Social Security Administration, or your application can be denied.

If you’re scheduled for an appointment that is too far from home, or you can’t make it at the time and date scheduled due to your condition, you can request to have the appointment moved to a more convenient location, or date and time. The Social Security Administration will endeavor to make sure that the appointments required for the process do not put any undue hardship on you.

What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied

If your claim is denied, the first thing you should do is hire an attorney, if you haven’t already. Once you’ve hired representation, or if you already have a disability lawyer, he or she will go over the denial in detail with you to determine the reasoning. You have the right to file an appeal to your decision, and will need to do it quickly, but it shouldn’t be done before you’ve corrected whatever deficiency the SSA has found with your application.

If your appeal is denied, your attorney can appeal the decision another time and take your case to a court hearing. If the process has reached the stage where a court hearing is required, an experienced social security disability attorney is crucial to your success. The amount of red tape required for a large bureaucracy, like the Social Security Administration, to overcome a previous denial is quite large. You’ll certainly need to have an experienced advocate on your team to reach a favorable outcome.