The amount of money disability claimants receive depends on which Social Security program they qualify for. The Federal Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) pays benefits based on your average lifetime earnings. The Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits based on the SSI Federal benefit rate less any countable income you may have.
Let’s review both programs in detail below.
Amount of Monthly Payments on SSDI
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits are for disabled workers and certain dependents. A person applying for disability benefits will have worked enough to obtain the number of work credits required to be eligible for benefits.
You must also have earned a certain amount of money each year and have had taxes withheld from your pay to receive credits. If you have worked steadily for at least five of the last ten years, you will often meet the non-medical requirements for disability benefits.
If you are eligible for SSDI benefits, the amount you receive each month will be based on your average lifetime earnings while you were working. This assumes you had money withheld for FICA taxes (also called Social Security taxes) as a portion of your wages.
It’s important to note that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not take into account the severity of your disability when determining the amount of your benefit.
To determine your SSDI payment, the SSA looks at your “average covered earnings” (the amount of your wages with FICA withholding) over a certain number of years. From that review, they will determine your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).
The AIME determines your monthly benefit amount. Generally speaking, the more you have in qualified earnings, the more your benefit will be. The max monthly payment for SSDI in 2021 is $3,148.
It’s important to remember that any other Federal benefits you receive reduce your SSDI monthly benefits. To see your entire covered earnings history, you can check your annual Social Security Statement online at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount.
Monthly Payments on SSI
As we mentioned above, the Federal benefit rate determines SSI payments – not how much you earn. The SSI program is designed for disabled, low-income individuals and families with limited resources. The monthly benefit is calculated based on the Federal rate and changes annually with the cost-of-living increases.
Maximum Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment amounts increase with the cost-of-living increases that apply to Social Security benefits. The latest such increase, 1.3 percent, becomes effective January 2021.
For 2021, the maximum benefit is $794 monthly for individuals, and $1,191 for eligible couples.
In addition, your monthly countable income reduces your SSI benefits. Every qualified beneficiary begins with the maximum monthly amount. Then, any additional resources or payments are subtracted against that amount to calculate that person’s payment.
In summary, calculating monthly payments for either SSDI or SSI is a complicated process. We recommend clients work with a qualified disability lawyer whenever possible to avoid confusion.