How Social Security Disability Benefits Are Calculated

Unlike workers’ compensation, social security disability benefits don’t depend on the severity of your condition. Rather, it depends on your average income from which you’ve paid social security taxes.

Also known as covered earnings, this average income is used by the SSA to calculate your benefits. Since covered earnings differ for everyone, the benefit amount can also vary for each person.

In 2019, the average SSDI benefit is $1,234 per person according to the SSA. Most beneficiaries receive between $800 to $1,800.

SSDI payments can also change each month as the SSA also takes into account other income earned during the period.

Your family members may also qualify for this benefit if their disability started before the age of 22.

Eligibility Requirements

In a nutshell, there are only two eligibility requirements for SSDI:

Earning Work Credits

Work credits refer to the points you’ve earned from paying social security taxes. To earn this, you must have worked in jobs covered by social security insurance. Each employee can earn up to 4 work credits a year.

Under the new SSA guidelines, credits are now based on your income for the entire year. It doesn’t matter when you started working as long as you earned enough to qualify for credits.

The required yearly earnings to earn a work credit also change each year. In 2019, your covered earnings must be at least $1,360 to earn one work credit. This means that you need at least $5,440 to qualify for the maximum number of credits per year.

For disability benefits, the required number of work credits depend on your age when you became disabled. The standard, however, is 40. Half of which should be earned in the last ten years before your disability.

To check your work credits, simply log-in to your social security account on the SSA website.

SSA’s Definition of Disability

Unlike other disability benefits, SSA doesn’t pay for partial and temporary disability. Only total disability conditions can qualify for SSDI.

There are three general rules by which the SSA gauges your disability:

  • You cannot do the work you did before
  • They determined that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical conditions
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least a year or will result in death.

In line with these, the SSA will generally consider you disabled if:

  • Your average monthly income for 2019 does not exceed $1,220
  • Your condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, and walking, among others. It must also last for at least 12 months.
  • Your condition must be in the SSA’s list of disabling conditions

The SSA also considers disability for special situations. This includes those who are blind or has low vision, widow/er, disabled children, and wounded warriors and veterans.

How to Calculate SSDI

Your average covered earnings for a period of years are referred to as Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). The SSA applies a formula to your AIME to calculate your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The final PIA is the maximum amount of SSDI benefits you are entitled to.

The formula is a complicated table of fixed percentages of different amounts of income. It tends to change every year. For 2019, your PIA is the sum of:

  • 90% of the first $926 of your AIME
  • 32% of your AIME amount from $926 to $5,583
  • 15% of your AIME amount over $5,583

Sounds confusing? Let’s simplify it.

For example, your AIME is $6,000. Here’s how your PIA is calculated:

90% of $926 = $833.40

32% of $4,657 ($5,583 – $926) = $1,490.24

15% of $417 ($6,000 – $5,583) = $62.55

Total PIA: $2,386.19

This is just a close estimate of your benefits. If you want a more detailed computation, refer to the SSA’s online calculator. Make sure you’re logged in to your social security account to get a more accurate figure.

Social Security Backpay

Your monthly SSDI benefits determine the amount of your social security back pay. But first, know when you applied for benefits and the established date when your disability started. This will determine how many months of back payment you’ll get.

Just add all your SSDI benefits in all the months you’re entitled to a back payment to come up with your social security back pay.

Factors That Can Reduce Your SSDI Benefits

As mentioned earlier, the SSA also considers your other sources of income to determine your benefit amount. If you earned more than 80% of your average income from before you are disabled, your benefits will be reduced.

Government-regulated disability benefits are considered additional income. This includes workers’ compensation and temporary state disability benefits.

Disability payments from private insurance policies, SSI and VA benefits will, however, not form part of your income. As such, they can’t affect your SSDI benefits.

Why You Need an Experienced Lawyer

Applying for social security disability benefits might be easy for you. But getting it approved is an altogether different story. A large percentage of first time SSDI applications are denied.


Victor Malca P.A. has over 25 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success in fighting for his clients puts among the most trusted workers’ compensation lawyers in Florida. Our area of expertise is in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claim social security disability benefits.

Our unwavering advocacy for employee rights and privileges are recognized by our past clients across South Florida. Book a free consultation today.

Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca LawABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca Law P.A. and enjoys helping people with questions about social security, workers compensation, and other serious matters involving people’s livelihood. She is not an attorney and her writing should not be considered legal advice.

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