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Are Disability Benefits Worth It? 5 Reasons to Apply

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
Published April 17, 2024
Updated April 18, 2024
3 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard-trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience and has helped over 50,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

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Applying for disability benefits is a big decision. But if your medical condition makes it hard to work, getting approved can be life-changing.

Many people put off applying because the process seems daunting — but there are real advantages to applying, and applying early.

We’ll go over the benefits that come with federal disability programs, and give some advice on when you should ready an application.

5 Reasons to apply for disability benefits

  1. Disability recipients receive an average of $180,000 in lifetime benefits.

  2. The average SSDI check is worth $1,721. The maximum amount for 2024 is $3,822 a month.

  3. Both federal programs come with free healthcare (Medicare for SSDI, Medicaid for SSI).

  4. Most people who receive disability benefits continue to receive them for life.

  5. While the process takes a while, you get “back pay” for the time between applying and being approved.

Don’t apply for disability benefits if…

  • You’re still able to work, or are planning to continue working full-time.

  • You expect your condition will improve, and you’ll be able to work full-time, within the year.

  • You’re at full retirement age (SSDI benefits are essentially the same as full retirement benefits; you can’t receive them together — so you’ll receive those instead).

What do you get with disability benefits?

There are two federal disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both come with a monthly benefit check and healthcare.

The amount of that check depends on which program you’re approved for.

For SSDI, what you’ll receive is based on your prior work history — or how much money you had previously paid into Social Security through your taxes. For SSI, it depends on how much money you make, and how many assets you have, now.

You generally qualify for SSDI if you’ve worked for five out of the last 10 years (this is technically based on your number of work credits — which you can read more about here). You can check if you have enough work credits to qualify, and see how much your monthly payment would be, by creating an account on SSA.gov. With SSDI, you’ll also get Medicare (after a waiting period).

You qualify for SSI if you have very few assets and very little income. You’ll receive $943 a month, minus any other assets or income. (There are a few things that don’t count — like your house, land, first car, and wedding ring.) With SSI, you’ll also get Medicaid.

You can apply for both programs at the same time — on the same application.

Here’s our complete guide to qualifying for benefits; it breaks down all the eligibility rules. If you’d rather skip the reading, you can also take our 2-minute disability quiz.

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We'll use the Social Security Administration's formula to estimate your monthly benefit.

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When should I apply for disability benefits? 

We recommend you apply for benefits as soon as you know you’ll be unable to work. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. The application process can take a while — a year or longer for some people. Applying now can ensure that you have healthcare and steady payments later.

  2. Despite the wait, once you are approved, you’ll be paid “back” for all the months between applying and your approval. This is called “back pay,” and the way the SSA calculates it is a bit complex (we wrote about it here). But it can add up to a pretty valuable sum — up to $30,000 for some people.

  3. The SSA determines whether or not you qualify for SSDI, and how much you’ll be paid, based on your recent work history. If you end up out of work and wait too long, you may not qualify.

  4. If you change your mind, or your condition improves, there’s no penalty for pulling your application. And there are no limits to how many times you can apply.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for disability benefits?

Technically, you can apply for disability benefits without a lawyer. But for almost everyone, it’s worthwhile to work with an attorney.

A lawyer can be a real advantage at any stage of your case. They can help you gather your medical records and complete the initial application. And they can help you appeal your claim, and represent you at a hearing, if you’re initially denied.

At the hearing stage, 83% of applicants work with a lawyer. And government studies show that you’re three times more likely to win benefits with legal representation.

Best of all, your lawyer only gets paid if you win benefits. Even then, they only get a percentage of your first check (25% — up to $7,200 max).

At Atticus, we’ve helped 100k+ Americans with disability benefits. We give free advice, and can match you with a top lawyer from our vetted attorney network. Take our 2-minute quiz to get started.

Disability 101: Our top resources for disability applicants

Get free legal help (and a lawyer — only if you want one).

Frequently asked questions about disability benefits

What do you get with disability benefits?

Disability benefits offer monthly checks and free or low-cost health insurance if you can’t work anymore because of a medical condition.There are two types of federal benefits. SSDI offers payments plus Medicare. SSI is an option for low-income individuals and includes Medicaid.

How much do disability benefits pay?

SSDI pays up to $3,822 per month in 2024, but the average SSDI check is about $1,600. Your exact check is based on your income and tax history. SSI pays up to $943 per month with your other monthly income subtracted from that maximum amount to find your benefit amount.

When should I apply for disability benefits?

We recommend you apply for benefits as soon as you know you’ll be unable to work. The application process can take a while — a year or longer for the average person. The sooner you submit your application, the sooner you can get benefits.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for disability benefits?

Not technically, but hiring one is worthwhile for most applicants. The SSA denies most initial applications and a lawyer increases your chances of winning an appeal. If you’re applying for state benefits or private disability benefits, you probably don’t need a lawyer.

Are there other types of disability benefits?

Besides Social Security disability, there are short-term disability benefits for people in a very small number of states. Injured workers can access workers’ comp and veterans can apply for VA disability. Anyone who already has a private disability insurance plan can also file a claim for those benefits. Learn more about the types of disability benefits.

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How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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