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Social Security Disability Income and Qualifications 101

Temporary or permanent disability can happen to anyone at any time. Do you understand the role social security can play? Some projections are estimating that Americans in their 20s today have an approximate 30 percent chance of experiencing a disability profound enough to cause them to miss three or more months of work before retiring. Despite the risks, most Americans do not carry short or long-term disability insurance. Close to half of all mortgage foreclosures are due to owners being struck with a disability, and fewer than 15 percent of people who purchase life insurance opt for disability insurance. The Social Security Administration (SSA) was tasked in 1956 to address disability and work income by creating a disability insurance program. Throughout its long history, additional rules have contributed to its complex regulations and eligibility requirements that make applying for disability benefits difficult.

What Are the Disability Benefits and Eligibility?

The disability benefits are in the form of monthly payments to provide a safety net for qualified individuals who have become too disabled to work. The benefits are paid through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs. Both of the programs are intended for disabled workers, but they have different benefits and qualifying requirements as well as different funding sources.

To become eligible for the SSDI program, you will have worked a required number of years in a job where you paid into the social security taxes (FICA, Federal Insurance Contributions Act). You have to have accrued a certain number of work credits. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. Workers that do not have the required number of work years and who also have low income and minimal assets can apply for SSI. In both programs, you are not eligible to be engaged in a substantial gainful activity (SGA), earning a certain amount of income from some other work.

The number of work credits required as a qualification for SSDI benefits depends on the age at which you became disabled. Generally, it is possible to qualify if you have earned at least 20 credits in the ten years before being disabled and if you have earned credits that total 40 or more. If you do not have enough work credits to qualify, there is a chance you can become qualified based on a spouse or parent’s work record. There are many regulations governing eligibility for SSDI, and each individual has a varied work history. To understand how to qualify and how much you should be able to receive, it is best to contact a legal professional for help.

Maintaining Disability Qualifications and Benefits

Once you qualify from a work history perspective for SSDI, then you must prove you meet medical eligibility requirements. SSDI benefits are available to those workers who have a severe, long-term, or total disability. A severe disability is a condition that interferes with general work-related actions. Long-term disability means you are unable to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for a minimum of one year. Total disability is a person’s inability to work in their own or any other occupation for which they are suited by training, experience, or education due to a sickness or injury.

SSI medical qualifications are similar to medical terms used in SSDI qualifications; however, these individuals must also have limited resources and a low income. The benefits from the SSI program are funded through general tax revenue and not dependent on your work history or having paid into the social security taxes known as FICA.

For either program, it can be challenging to qualify for the SSA’s definition of disabled. To be considered disabled by the SSA, your condition has to last a year or be expected to last a year. Or your condition should be expected to result in your death. Your condition must also significantly limit your abilities to do necessary work activities like walking, sitting, standing, or retaining and remembering information. Additionally, your condition must be listed in the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments” (Blue Book) or have medical equivalency to listed conditions. Finally, your condition must prevent you from doing any work for which you qualify before your disability.  

The Approval Process for Social Security Disability

Becoming approved for benefits is a lengthy and often frustrating process as many people are denied on their first application. A myriad of forms, doctors’ recommendations, personal medical history, work, and tax documentation all contribute to becoming accepted into either program. You can apply online or at your local social security office. It is best to contact the office to schedule an appointment to submit your application for benefits. Regarding financial qualification, be prepared with your work history and current earnings, household assets and income, your bank, and financial institution information. Also required is your current and past employers and up to five jobs you have held in the past 15 years, any other benefits you may be receiving, your status of citizenship, and, if applicable, any paperwork from a military discharge.  Pay stubs, proof of citizenship, W-2s or 1099s, information about your disability, and detailed medical records are all pertinent data to bring.

An initial application that is denied has multiple stages of appeal. You can enter a request for reconsideration or even go up as high as an appeal to a federal court. If your condition has made you very sick and you are experiencing a severe medical condition, there is a streamlined process known as the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance List. This list primarily includes adult brain disorders, certain cancers, and several rare disorders that affect children. If and when you are approved for disability income through SSDI or SSI, there is a waiting period. Benefits will not be made available to you until you have been disabled for a full five months, and, likely, you will not be approved for six months to a year, including the likelihood for at least one level of appeal. Be prepared from the outset for a lengthy process and improve your chances for approval with a well thought out, legally reviewed application for disability income. If you have questions or would like to discuss your situation with us, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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Is COVID-19 Putting Your Social Security at Risk

The recent pandemic has caused for many drastic changes in our economy including social security funding. The US Social Security Administrations funding trusts are known as the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. In their 2019 annual report to Congress, the Board of Trustees released some startling detail about projected insolvency for the Social Security Program by the year 2035. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been dipping into its “trust fund” to meet scheduled benefit payouts. Social Security program costs continue to exceed non-interest income.

The OASI has no authority to borrow money, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American workforce is severely reduced. Now there are far fewer workers paying into the Social Security system. The payroll tax is the cash liquidity needed to fund by far the single most significant source of federal spending, and it is drying up. Trust reserves will be depleted faster than the projection of 2035.

The situation became dire in what seems like an instant, but it is due to more than 22 million Americans losing their jobs in the past four weeks. Twenty-two million fewer people are propping up the Social Security system at a time when a lot more money will soon be going out. People who are now out of work will be able to draw benefits and may do just that out of sheer economic need.

According to Market Watch reporting, by columnist Alicia H. Munnell, a leading expert on Social Security “We are going to lose a lot of payroll tax revenue this year” as “expenditures keep at their regular pace, if not at an immediately  higher pace because older people can’t find a job might turn to claim early.” The gap between what the SSA takes in versus pays out will widen further, and the trust fund that fills this gap will be depleted faster than ever. Social Security trustees Labor Secretary Acosta, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have yet to release their updated projections on just how quickly the trust fund will run out of cash.

With the advent of COVID-19 and ever-increasing expenditure to protect the unemployed and vulnerable people of America, it will behoove those who have retirement and estate plans to review and make appropriate changes to cover what may be shortfalls to their expected Social Security benefits. Also, consider any expected employee pensions you may have from businesses that may go bankrupt. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time to get a good fix in place for you or the government because of the world-wide economic market crashes. The fix for Social Security has moved to a scale of monies not seen before this pandemic. The current solution of the SSA is for the American taxpayer to receive somewhere around 75 percent of their previously promised benefits. Still, that percentage was established before the loss of 22 million workers and their payroll tax contributions.

The perfect storm has come to pass. Americans are experiencing a pandemic that spurs massive unemployment, which in turn leaves, at minimum, 22-million fewer payroll tax contributors, which accelerates the timeline of a projected insolvent Social Security system. The Social Security solvency problem, coupled with the US Census Bureau reporting a declining US birth rate for the fifth straight year while people are living longer than ever before, and this perfect storm becomes cataclysmic.

The good news is American people want to go to work and get on with their lives. Successful retirement and estate planning are all about mitigating risk and expanding rewards. We can help with your planning. The sooner you start, the better, as we could remain in uncertain times for a while longer. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.