Important Definitions When Applying for Disability


Applying for disability benefits can feel overwhelming. Applicants have to navigate numerous complex rules and regulations, and many people have their claims denied, making the process even more frustrating. Understanding a few important definitions can help ease the process of applying for disability and shed some light on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) standards.

Substantial Gainful Activity

Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is an income threshold, above which an applicant does not qualify for disability benefits. SSA increases this number each year to accommodate increases in living expenses. For 2023, the general SGA threshold is $1,470 per month. For individuals who are statutorily blind, SGA is $2,460 per month.

If an individual is engaged in substantial gainful activity, they cannot obtain benefits, regardless of the extent or nature of their disability. For example, an individual may be bed-bound but own a company and have people working under them. Even though they have a disability, they are reporting income from their company. If that income exceeds the SGA threshold, they do not qualify for benefits.

Another example is someone who is self-employed. Perhaps they babysit or do another job on the side, and they do not think of it as work. Even if this income does not seem like much to them, they cannot qualify for disability benefits if it exceeds SGA.

Work Credits

Work credits have to do with how much one pays into the Social Security system while they are working. In 2023, for every $1,640 someone earns, they earn one work credit. Individuals can earn one credit per quarter, for a total of four work credits per year. may earn up to four credits per year by quarter.

Work credits determine a person’s eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). To qualify for benefits under this program, individuals must have earned a minimum number of work credits. An applicant’s age determines the number of credits they must have earned. Individuals age 31 or older need at least 20 credits earned in the last 10 years before becoming disabled.

Residual Functional Capacity

Residual functional capacity (RFC) is an applicant’s ability to perform work despite their condition. SSA breaks this down into many different categories. For example, they consider an individual’s postural abilities, their lifting limitations, and environmental factors. In many cases, SSA denies applications because it determines that their RFC enables them to return to work.

For example, an individual’s RFC may limit them to light work, meaning they could lift tens of pounds frequently, 20 pounds occasionally, and be on their feet for a maximum of six hours per day. In addition, the person should not be exposed to pulmonary irritants more than one-third of the time. With this RFC, the person should not be required to work in the presence of hazards, operate a motor vehicle, or engage in fast-paced work. The RFC is then compared with the person’s employment history and other available jobs to determine if they can perform some work.

Let Our Attorneys  Help You Apply for Disability Benefits

Learning some basic Social Security terminology is a helpful first step when seeking disability benefits. However, complying with SSA requirements can often be confusing and difficult in practice. An experienced attorney could put their knowledge to work on behalf of an applicant, guiding them through every step of the application or appeals process. To learn more about how an attorney could help in your case, call today.

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