Social Security disability benefits are a crucial resource for millions of people across the country. Roughly 65 million Americans will have received over a trillion dollars in Social Security benefits in 2020, according to the Social Security Administration.
Of that number, almost 2 million Georgia residents received monthly Social Security benefits, totalling $2.41 billion.
These benefits programs serve a vital public need for disabled Americans, who may not have the ability to otherwise earn an income. For some, every dollar counts, especially those who are unable to pay for necessities such as housing, basic utilities, food, or medicine.
If you’re disabled and planning to integrate these benefits into your family finances, you will undoubtedly need to know exactly how much money you can make on Social Security disability.
Unfortunately, the short answer is: It depends.
Yet there is a way to calculate your potential benefits amount and set realistic expectations when it comes to Social Security disability.
The amount you’ll receive depends largely on the benefits program you’ve chosen for your claim.
The Two Main Social Security Disability Programs
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): This is an earned benefit that requires you to earn work credits over time. You earn work credits, or “quarters,” by earning a certain amount of money through employment or self-employment income. You can earn up to four quarters per year.
According to the SSA, to qualify for SSDI: “Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you became disabled.”
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a needs-based program, with eligibility determined by your income, as well as factors such as age and level of disability.
For both programs, in 2021 you must not be able to earn above $1,310 per month as a non-blind disabled individual. This is known as substantial gainful activity, or SGA. For blind individuals, you must not be able to earn above $2,190 monthly to qualify for SSDI. There is no SGA limit for blind individuals seeking SSI.
Certain other forms of income or assets may be considered in determining whether you qualify for benefits. Discuss these requirements with a Social Security disability attorney.
2021 Amounts for SSI
SSI benefit amounts are adjusted annually. According to the SSA, “monthly amounts for the next year are determined by increasing the unrounded annual amounts for the current year by the COLA effective for January of the next year. The new unrounded amounts are then each divided by 12 and the resulting amounts are rounded down to the next lower multiple of $1.”
For 2021, the maximum monthly SSI benefits that can be earned are:
- $794 per individual
- $1,191 per couple
- $397 per Essential Person
The amount of benefits you receive will depend on your “countable income,” with some exclusions.
Note: For those living in Medicaid nursing home or hospice settings, the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) may in some cases add a small supplement to your SSI benefits.
2021 Amounts for SSDI
As mentioned, SSDI differs from SSI in that it is an earned benefit. The monthly amount you receive, should your disability qualify, will depend on how long you’ve worked and how much you’ve paid into the program through Social Security taxes.
The highest possible SSDI payment you can receive in 2021 at full retirement age is $3,148, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
However, the average disabled worker will see a monthly payment of about $1,277, or $2,224 for those with a spouse and/or children. These are slight increases from the previous year.
Yet there are many individual factors that will help determine if you qualify for SSDI, and how much you will receive.
For instance, $1,470 of income earns you one of the four annual work credits you can get in 2021. Most people must earn at least 40 credits to receive benefits.
The amount of SSDI you receive will be based on your average monthly earnings for a period of years prior to becoming disabled. What you receive in SSDI and certain other types of disability benefit cannot exceed 80% of your average monthly earnings.
There are other individual factors that can affect the amount you’ll receive.
You can calculate your SSDI disability benefits using the SSA’s benefits calculator.
An attorney can also help you understand how your unique circumstances will impact your benefits.
How a Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help—and What It Costs
The first thing to understand about consulting an attorney for Social Security is that you don’t typically pay an upfront attorney’s fee.
This means that there’s no financial incentive to wait to hire legal representation. Often, the earlier in the case you’re able to speak with a lawyer, the better.
Attorneys usually agree to take a federally regulated percentage of your “back pay,” or your first disability check—should you win your case—that can’t exceed $6,000. If you don’t win, you pay nothing.
While paying for legal representation will detract from the amount you initially earn, a qualified attorney’s guidance and advocacy can be an invaluable investment and will maximize your chances of winning your claim.
A majority of those who apply for Social Security disability are initially denied. Disability lawyers are versed in Social Security regulations and expectations for claimants.
An attorney can:
- Help you gather proper and compelling medical evidence regarding your disability.
- File paperwork correctly and meet deadlines.
- Advocate for you should you need to appeal a denial of your claim.
- Prepare you for an appeal hearing.
- Communicate next steps and set expectations for each stage of your case.
If your Social Security Disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4978.