How Social Security Works

Disability Insurance

Social Security also provides benefits for people who become disabled in a way that prevents or limits their ability to work. Like retirement benefits, these payments depend on the number of credits you have put into the system. However, a full 40 credits is not needed. The exact number depends on your age.

Disability insurance covers both physical and mental health problems that last at least 12 months continuously and prevent "gainful activity." Drug and alcohol problems are not covered.

There is a five-month waiting period from the time the disability begins to the first benefit payment. Payments are generally the same as retirement benefits, even though the number of work years can be significantly less if someone is disabled while he or she is young. Family members can also receive benefits, and the rules are similar to retirement benefits. The exception is divorced spouses, who are not eligible for disability benefits if their former spouse becomes disabled.

Applying for Social Security

Social Security card Social Security card
Social Security card

S­ocial Security benefits do not happen automatically. When the time comes to draw benefits -- in the case of retirement, disability, etc. -- you must apply for them. You can get an application by visiting Social Security Online or your local Social Security office.

When you apply, you will need your Social Security card. Also, bring your birth certificate and your tax forms from the previous year. If you were in the military, bring your military discharge papers as well. If you have any family members who may be eligible to receive benefits through you, bring their birth certificates and Social Security cards, too.

If you plan to have your benefit payments deposited directly into a bank account, bring your account numbers and a blank check.