Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Example: Getting SSDI

Kevin’s Story

Kevin was 38 years old when a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

He had about $10,000 in savings when he returned home from the hospital and he knew that money would not last forever. He also knew he’d be unable to return to his old job as an auto mechanic. The Human Resources department at his job told him about State Disability Insurance (SDI), but Kevin didn't have any long-term disability insurance to help pay the bills after his SDI ended.

Fortunately, Kevin had learned about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in the hospital. SSDI is a program that gives income to people who are no longer able to work because of a disability.

Applying for SSDI is a 3-step process.

  1. Kevin applies online and provides Social Security with all documentation about his earned income, work history, and disability.
  2. Social Security checks his work history to be sure he’d contributed enough in Social Security taxes to qualify for SSDI benefits.
  3. Social Security checks Kevin’s condition to see whether he had a disability.

SSDI Eligibility

Kevin was fairly sure he’d meet all the eligibility criteria for SSDI:

  1. He was not earning any income from work, so his earnings were well below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.
  2. His disabling condition was severe and could be expected to last longer than 12 months.
  3. His disabling condition was listed on Social Security’s List of Impairments.
  4. He would not be able to return to work at his old job. And given his condition and skills, he did not think he would be able to work at another job and perform at the SGA level.
  5. He started working and paying Social Security taxes when he was 22, so he was sure he’d collected enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits.


Kevin applied for SSDI benefits and 2 months later, he got a letter in the mail. He’d been approved for a monthly SSDI benefits amount of $1,500.

He had to wait another 5 months before he actually got his 1st SSDI benefits payment, but when he did, it was a great relief. The monthly cash benefit was a huge help with rent, groceries, and other expenses.

One Year Later

A little more than a year after his SSDI payments began, Kevin started thinking about going back to work. However, he had some concerns.

First and foremost, would he be able to work again? Being an auto mechanic was out. But maybe there was some other way he could earn a living.

Second, how would work and a higher income affect his SSDI benefits? If a new job worked out, that was great. But what if it didn’t? Would he have to re-apply for Social Security benefits? Kevin talked to a benefits planner to get some answers.

SSDI Work Incentives

To Kevin’s delight, he learned that Social Security offers many incentives to help people return to work.

First of all, Social Security gives every SSDI beneficiary a 9-month Trial Work Period. During that period, you can work and earn any level of income while still keeping your full SSDI benefits. This gives beneficiaries a chance to test the waters and see if working is a good option for them.

Once you’ve used up your Trial Work Period, you get a 3-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), during which you can continue to get SSDI benefits as long as your gross countable monthly earnings don’t exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,350 per month in 2022, $2,260 if you’re blind).

After your EPE ends, a 5-year period of Expedited Reinstatement follows. During this period, you can apply for reinstatement of benefits and get up to 6 months of temporary SSDI benefits while Social Security conducts a medical review. If, during that review, Social Security decides that you still meet their disability requirements, you’ll be placed back on benefits without having to reapply for SSDI.

With all these safeguards, Kevin decided to give working a shot. He got a job as a sales representative for an auto parts manufacturer and it turned out to be a great fit. Ultimately, he became one of the top salesmen in San Bernadino County. SSDI had served him well while he was unable to work, and the program’s work incentives had given him the confidence to try working again.

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