Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Example: Getting SSDI

Kevin’s Story

Kevin was 38 years old when a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. He had about $10,000 in the bank, but he knew that it wouldn’t last long. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to his job as an auto mechanic, and he did not have any private disability insurance to help pay the bills.

Fortunately, a relative told Kevin about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is a public program that helps people who cannot work because of a disability.

Applying for SSDI would be a three-step process:

  1. Kevin applies online and provides Social Security with all documentation about his earned income, work history, and disability.
  2. Social Security checks Kevin’s work history to see if he’d worked long enough while paying Social Security taxes to qualify for SSDI benefits.
  3. Social Security checks Kevin’s condition to see whether he had a disability.

SSDI Eligibility

Kevin was fairly sure he’d qualify for SSDI because:

  • He wasn’t working, so he had no earnings and was below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.
  • His disabling condition was severe and could be expected to last longer than 12 months.
  • His disabling condition was listed on Social Security’s List of Impairments.
  • He’d been working and paying Social Security taxes for more than 15 years.


Kevin applied for SSDI benefits and two months later, he got a letter in the mail. He’d been approved for $1,500 per month in SSDI benefits.

Because of SSDI’s five-month waiting period before benefits begin, Kevin had to wait another three months for his first SSDI benefits payment (he had already been waiting two months to be approved). When SSDI finally began, it was a great relief: The monthly cash benefit was a huge help with rent, groceries, and other expenses.

Two Years Later

Two years after SSDI began, he automatically started getting Medicare health coverage, which helped cut his medical expenses.

Around the same time, Kevin started thinking about going back to work. However, he had some concerns:

First, would he be able to work again? Being an auto mechanic was out. But maybe there was some other way he could earn a living.

Second, how would work and a higher income affect his SSDI benefits? If a new job worked out, that was great. But what if it didn’t? Would he have to reapply for Social Security benefits? Kevin talked to a Benefits Planner to get some answers.

SSDI Work Incentives

To Kevin’s relief, he learned that Social Security offers many incentives to help people return to work.

First, Social Security gives every SSDI beneficiary a nine-month Trial Work Period. This would let Kevin work and keep getting his full SSDI benefits, no matter how much he made. He could try out working with no risk to his benefits!

If he used up the Trial Work Period, Kevin would get a three-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), during which he would still get SSDI benefits in any month where his monthly earnings were at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level or less ($1,550 per month in 2024).

After the EPE ended, Kevin would have a five-year period of Expedited Reinstatement, during which he could apply for reinstatement of benefits if he needed it and get up to six months of temporary SSDI benefits. During the six months, Social Security would conduct a medical review and if Social Security decided that Kevin still met their disability requirements, he would continue getting SSDI benefits without having to reapply.

With all these safeguards, Kevin decided to give working a shot. He got a job as a sales representative for an auto parts manufacturer and it turned out to be a great fit. Ultimately, he became one of the top salesmen in Saginaw County. SSDI had served him well while he was unable to work, and the program’s work incentives had given him the confidence to try working again.

Learn more