What Are the Maximum Social Security Disability Benefits?

The average monthly benefit in 2021 is $1,280, but it can go higher

Part Of
Understanding Social Security
Explore The Guide

The estimated average Social Security disability benefit for a disabled worker receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is $1,280.42 per month, according to the June 2021 figures from the Social Security Administration (SSA). These benefits are based on average lifetime earnings, not on household income or how severe an individual’s disability is.

If you’ve kept your annual Social Security statement, you can find what you are likely to receive in the Estimated Benefits section. The total amount that a disabled worker and their family can receive is about 150% to 180% of the disabled worker’s benefit. Eligible family members can include a spouse, divorced spouse, child, disabled child, and/or an adult child disabled before age 22. The estimated average monthly Social Security benefits payable to a disabled worker, their spouse, and one or more children in January 2021 is $2,224.

Key Takeaways

  • The total amount that a disabled worker and their family can receive is about 150% to 180% of the disabled worker’s benefit.
  • While there are some conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers so severe that they automatically render an applicant disabled, many conditions require careful screening.
  • There is a mandatory waiting period of five months after your disability begins before you can start receiving benefits.

What Are Social Security Disability Benefits?

Social Security disability benefits come from payroll deductions required by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) to cover the cost of Social Security benefits such as retirement, as well as spousal and survivor benefits. Some of this funding goes into the Disability Insurance Trust Fund (DI) and pays for disability benefits.

According to the Social Security website, to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have worked a certain length of time in jobs covered by Social Security. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year when you became disabled. You must also have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability.

Social Security Disability Insurance should not be confused with Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which pays benefits to those who have financial needs regardless of their work history. Although these two names sound similar, the qualifications to get the payments and what you might receive are very different.

Social Security Disability Evaluation Process

While there are some conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers so severe that they automatically render an applicant disabled, many conditions require careful screening, including answering these five questions:

  1. Are you currently working? If you are working, you are not blind, and your earnings average more than $1,310 per month in 2021, then you will not be considered disabled. If you are not working, or if your income falls below Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limits, move on to question two.
  2. Is your condition “severe”? If Social Security determines that your condition does not interfere with basic work-related activities, then you will not be considered disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, move on to question three.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? Social Security maintains a list of disabling medical conditions that automatically qualify you as disabled. If your condition is not one of these, then Social Security will determine if it is severe enough to qualify. If so, you will be considered disabled, and your application will be approved. If not, move on to question four.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition does not interfere with your ability to do the work that you used to do, then you will not be considered disabled. If it does, move on to question five.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? Finally, if you can’t do the work that you did previously, then Social Security will determine whether you can do some other type of work. If Social Security determines that you can adjust to other suitable work—taking into account your condition, age, education, previous work experience, and other factors—then you will not be considered disabled, and your claim will be denied. If you cannot adjust, then your claim will be approved.

In addition, qualifying conditions must be expected to last at least one year or result in death.

There is a mandatory waiting period before disability benefits begin to be dispersed.

When Payments Begin

Many people believe you have to be disabled for a certain period of time before you can apply for Social Security disability benefits. That isn’t true. You can (and should) apply as soon as you believe that you are disabled. There is a mandatory waiting period, and you will receive benefits after your sixth full month of disability. Once you start getting them, whether or not they are taxable depends on your income.

The Bottom Line

You should apply for Social Security disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. The application process can take three to five months, according to Social Security, and counts as part of the mandatory waiting period of five months after the onset of your disability.

You can apply at the Social Security website or by calling 1-800-772-1213. Social Security has an online calculator that you can use to obtain an estimate of both retirement and disability benefits for you and your family members.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Social Security Administration. “Fact Sheet on the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program.” Accessed Oct. 20, 2020.

  2. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Disability Benefits | You’re Approved.” Accessed April 29, 2020.

  3. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Disability Benefits | Family Benefits.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  4. Social Security Administration. “2021 SOCIAL SECURITY CHANGES.” Accessed Dec. 30, 2020.

  5. Social Security Administration. “What Is FICA?” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  6. Social Security Administration. “Disability Insurance Trust Fund.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  7. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Disability Benefits | How You Qualify.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  8. Social Security Administration. “Supplemental Security Income.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  9. Social Security Administration. “2021 SOCIAL SECURITY CHANGES.” Accessed Oct. 20, 2020.

  10. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Disability Benefits | You’re Approved.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  11. Social Security Administration. “Benefits Planner: Retirement Benefits: Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefit.” Accessed Feb. 22, 2020.

  12. Social Security Administration. “What You Should Know Before You Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits,” Page 2. Accessed April 29, 2020.

  13. Social Security Administration. "Disability Benefits." Accessed April 29, 2020.