How Social Security Disability Payments Are Calculated

How to Calculate Social Security Disability


The Social Security Administration’s disability benefit program is pretty complicated to navigate. Making sense of the system can be even more difficult when you’re also dealing with a disability. Contact the SSA for help with specific questions.


Program Overview

The SSA has two different disability programs. The Social Security Disability Insurance Program (SSDI) is available to people who have previously worked and paid into the Social Security system, but who have become disabled in a way that prevents them from working for at least one year.

To qualify for SSDI benefits, a person must have worked for a certain period of time, the exact length of which depends on the person’s age.

The Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) is funded by tax payments and is available to people who are disabled and have limited income and resources. Many states also pay additional supplemental income, in addition to the federal benefits paid by the SSA.

Some people receive both SSDI and SSI payments, but the amounts they receive are calculated in different ways.


SSDI Payments

Because SSDI payments come from a fund that workers pay into, they are calculated based on a disabled person’s average lifetime earnings. The SSA doesn’t provide the specific formula used, but it does offer a simple online calculator.

Enter your birthdate and information about your previous year’s income to determine what your monthly SSDI payment will be. The more you have earned, the higher your payments will be.


SSI Payments

A person’s SSI payments are calculated using what’s called the Federal Base Rate (FBR). It’s increased each year to reflect the increased cost of living.

In 2016, the annual FBR for an individual was $8,804.43. For 2017, it was raised to $8,830.84, or $735 a month.

If you qualify for SSI payments, the SSA will subtract any "countable income" you have from the FBR. That’s income that’s left after the SSA makes any deductions. So imagine that in 2017 you have $200 per month in countable income. It would be subtracted from $735 to create a monthly SSI payment of $535.

Say you live in one of the states that allows the SSA to administer its SSI supplements. That state’s payment will be added to the $535. But if your state administers its own SSI payments, you’ll have to contact the state directly. And a few states don’t offer any supplemental SSI benefits. They are:

  • Arizona
  • Mississippi
  • West Virginia
  • North Dakota

Additionally, the SSA pays different amounts to couples who both qualify for these benefits, and individual states pay different amounts depending on a person’s marital status and living arrangements.


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