Understanding Social Security disability benefits is not always simple. Many of the terms and phrases you come across have complex definitions and grasping the terminology behind Social Security is crucial to navigating the program. Here, the disability advocates at Disability Associates detail the key Social Security terms you need to know.

Work Credits

As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you subsequently earn credits that count towards your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. These credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income, and in 2018, each credit is equal to approximately $1,328 in earnings. For more information on how work credits impact your eligibility for disability benefits, be sure to view our article on how the Social Security Administration assesses claims.

Retirement Age

It is important to know that there is both a minimum and maximum (known as full) retirement age when considering Social Security benefits. While full retirement age was 65 for many years, it now varies depending upon the year in which you were born.

Beginning with the year 2000 (for workers and spouses born in 1938 or later, or widows or widowers born in 1940 or later), the retirement age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022. The current minimum retirement age is 62 for workers and 60 for widows or widowers. In addition, you can choose a reduced benefit any time before you reach full retirement age.

Your age is not taken into account when applying for Social Security disability benefits or supplemental income. Instead, Social Security requires that you have earned the appropriate number of work credits within a certain period of time, ending with the time you became disabled.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a federal, supplemental income program funded by general tax revenues, as opposed to being funded by Social Security tax revenues. This specialized program is designed to assist aged, blind and disabled individuals with limited income and resources by providing monthly cash payments to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

For more information on SSI, you can view the SSA’s online resource, which provides detailed information into requirements, proper documentation and more.


Medicare is the federal health insurance program for individuals that:

  • are aged 65 years or older,
  • are younger and have a certain disability, and
  • people with permanent kidney failure who undergo dialysis or a transplant.

Medicare is split into two different categories, known as Part A and Part B. Part A, Hospital Insurance, covers inpatient hospital stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and some home health care. Part B, Medical Insurance, is an optional coverage that assists with certain doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical supplies and preventive services. You can visit the official Medicare website for more information and to apply. Note that if you are approved for Social Security disability benefits, it is likely that you will automatically be approved for Medicare.


Medicaid is a joint program between federal and state governments that varies from state to state in terms of cost and coverage. Medicaid is designed to help individuals with low income and limited resources, and those that are approved for Supplemental Security Income receive Medicaid automatically. You can go online to view additional information on Medicaid in Maryland, and to learn more about the program’s benefits, policies and requirements.

Consult a Specialized Attorney for Assistance with Social Security Benefits

Navigating the various aspects of Social Security—especially disability and supplemental income—can pose significant challenges. At Disability Associates, our goal is to advocate for those who currently have, or are considering applying for, such benefits. For more information and to speak with an attorney today, contact us to get started.