How Are My Disability Benefits Calculated?

Jan 16 2017 - 2:30pm

Larry, I'm a 52 year old single male - never married- and I started SSDI when I was 51. At a minimum, I'll be on SSDI for two years. My monthly SSDI payments are $2670. I only have 34 years of covered earnings of which 8 of those I earned less than $10,000/year. My top earning year was 2015 and I earned $125,317. How many years of work did SSA use to calculate my SSDI benefit? Is there a table or formula where I can look up this information? (It must be somewhere.) If I return to work how will my SS payments be impacted when I'm 62, at FRA or 70? How will my benefit be calculated? I've previously purchased your software, but I can't recall if it takes into account my current scenario. I wouldn't want to buy another annual subscription if that weren't the case unless there's another valid reason that you know of. You're welcome to contact me by phone if you need additional details. Thanks in advance, Paul

Hi Paul,

The number of years used to calculate Social Security disability benefits is determined as follows:
Step 1 - Subtract the calendar year that the disabled person turned age 22 from the calendar year of their disability onset;
Step 2 - Divide the number of years calculated in step 1 by 5, and round the result down to a whole number.
Step 3 - Subtract the lesser of a) the result of step 2 or b) 5 from the lesser of a) the result of step 1, or b) 35.

For example, if you were born in 1964 and became disabled in 2015, the result of step 1 would be 29 (i.e. 2015-1986), the result of step 2 would be 5.8 which would be rounded down to 5, and the result of step 3 would be 24 (i.e. 29-5).

So, your disability benefit was likely calculated on your highest 24 years 'indexed' earnings, give or take a year. Indexed earnings are calculated as explained in the following reference from Social Security's website: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/awifactors.html. Note however that the eligibility year for disability benefits is the earlier of the year of disability onset or the year age 62 attainment. The benefit calculation formula after that is essentially the same for disability benefits as it is for retirement benefits (https://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/retirebenefit1.html).

If you return to work and earn enough to cause your disability benefits to terminate, the normal benefit calculation formula will be used when you eventually apply for retirement benefits, except that fewer years will be used in the calculation. Social Security would subtract the number of years you were disabled, in whole or in part, from the normal 35 years when determining the number of years to average. So, for example, if you became disabled in 2015 and your disability benefits terminated in 2018, your future retirement benefits would be calculated based on your highest 31 years of indexed earnings. Other than that, everything else would work the same as for someone who never received disability benefits. In other words, your full retirement age will be 67, and if you start benefits at age 62 they'll be reduced by roughly 30%, whereas if you wait until age 70 to start drawing, your benefit rate will be 24% higher than if you'd started them at age 67.

Best, Jerry