How Is My SSDI Benefit Amount Determined?

Calculator with some paper bills

Social Security Disability Insurance benefit recipients’ average lifetime earnings figure heavily in the calculation to determine their benefit award amounts. The benefit amounts that incapacitated workers receive from the Social Security Administration each month are unique for each recipient. The factors that go into determining benefit amounts do not account for the severity of recipients’ disabilities or the extent of the limitations they face in their daily lives due to the conditions.

Calculating Disability Benefits

To determine SSDI benefit award amounts, the SSA utilizes a weighted formula. Social Security applies the formula to recipients’ average indexed monthly earnings, or AIME, to calculate the primary insurance amount. To calculate AIME, the SSA considers benefit recipients’ highest 35 years of earnings. For SSDI benefit recipients who do not have 35 years of work history, Social Security counts the number of years between when workers turned 21-years-old and when they suffered disabling conditions. The agency then subtracts the lesser amount of one-fifth of that number of years or five years.

To calculate the primary insurance amount, the SSA takes the sum of three separate percentages of portions of recipients’ AIME. Federal law fixes these percentages at 90%, 32% and 15%; however, the dollar amounts in the formula adjust annually following changes to the national average wage index. Referred to as bend points, these dollar amounts govern the portions of the AIME and are added together to estimate the amounts of recipients’ monthly benefit payments.

Increasing SSDI Benefit Amounts

Under some circumstances, benefit recipients may see an increase in disability payments. Although a worsening of the conditions may not qualify them for more money each month, the onset of or suffering from blindness may. Visual impairments may significantly lower people’s ability to meet substantial gainful activity, so the SSA maintains different SGA amounts for blind versus non-blind applicants.

Reducing SSDI Benefit Awards

Some factors may result in a reduction of recipients’ initial benefit award amounts or monthly payments after they have started receiving SSDI benefits. Social Security may deduct the excess benefit amounts from recipients’ awards for those who also get workers’ compensation or public disability benefits exceeding 80% of their average earnings before the disability. Similarly, the SSA may reduce or cut benefit amounts for recipients participating in work incentive programs such as the trial work period or extended period of eligibility.


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