Social Security Disability Terms

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Social Security Disability Glossary of Terms

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Terms Explanation
AIME (Average Indexed Monthly Earnings) The dollar amount used to calculate your Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) after 1978. To arrive at your AIME, we adjust your actual past earnings using an " average wage index," so you won’t lose the value of your past earnings (when money was worth more) in relation to your more recent earnings. If you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) before 1978, we use Average Monthly Earnings (AME).
ALJ ALJ is an abbreviation for administrative law judge. An ALJ hears Social Security Disability and supplemental security income appeals and renders decisions on benefit claims.
AME (Average Monthly Earnings) The dollar amount used in calculating your monthly Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) before 1978. The AME is determined by dividing the total earnings in the "computation years" by the number of months in those same years. See Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB).
Annual Cost of Living Increase Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments may be automatically increased each year to keep pace with increases in the cost-of-living (inflation).
Appeal (Appeal Rights) Whenever the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes a decision regarding your eligibility for Social Security Disability (SSD) or supplemental security income (SSI) benefits; you will receive a letter of explanation. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal, in other words, you may ask SSA to review your case.
Appeals Council When an administrative law judge denies your appeal, you may further appeal to Appeals Council, which is the third step in the Social Security Disability appeal’s process. Appeals Council reviews the administrative law judge’s decision to determine if an error was made.
Application for Benefits To receive Social Security, or Supplemental Security Income payments, you must complete and sign an application. If Social Security denies your claim, you may file an appeal and will wait even longer for a final decision.
Award Letter or Denial Letter When you file for Social Security, the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides if you will receive benefits. You will receive an official letter explaining the SSA decision, If benefits are payable, the letter states the amount you will get each month.
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Baptismal Certificate A religious record of an your birth or baptism.  In some situations we can use a baptismal certificate to establish your age. See  Birth Certificate
Base Years A worker's (wage earner) base years for computing Social Security benefits are the years after 1950 up to the year of entitlement to retirement or disability insurance benefits. For a survivor's claim, the base years include the year of the worker's death.
See  Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB).
Benefit Verification Letter (BEVE) An official letter from Social Security that provides information on how much an individual receives in monthly Social Security benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income payments.  These letters are normally issued following a request from a beneficiary or his/her authorized representative.
Benefits Social Security provides five major categories of benefits:
  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Family (dependents)
  • Survivors
  • Medicare
The retirement, family (dependents), survivor, and disability programs provide monthly cash benefits and Medicare provides medical coverage.
Benefits - Reduced You can get the following reduced monthly benefits before reaching full retirement age:
  • Retirement insurance benefits at age 62 through the month before your reach Full Retirement Age (FRA)
  • Husband's or wife's insurance benefits at age 62 through the month before you reach FRA, provided no child of your spouse either under age 18 or disabled and entitled to benefits is in your care
  • Widow's or widower's insurance benefits beginning at any time from age 50 through the month before you reach FRA
  • Widow's or widower's insurance benefits after your spouse has received a retirement insurance benefit reduced for age
  • Disability insurance benefits received after a reduced retirement insurance benefit; or
  • Retirement or disability insurance benefit received after a reduced widow's or widower's insurance benefit.
This applies only if you were born before 1928.
Birth Certificate (Original) The record maintained by a governmental entity such as a state, county, parish, city, or borough which documents your birth.  For additional information on obtaining a birth certificate.
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Child We use the term "Child" to include your biological child or any other child who can inherit your personal property under State law or who meets certain specific requirements under the Social Security Act such as:
  • A legally adopted child,
  • An equitably adopted child,
  • A stepchild, or
  • A grandchild.
See Benefits for additional information.
COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments are increased each year to keep pace with increases in the cost-of-living (inflation).
Computation Years Computation years are the years with highest earnings selected from the "base years."  We add total earnings in the computation years and divide by the number of months in those years to get the AME or the AIME
Continuing Disability Review (CDR) When you are awarded Social Security benefits, your benefits will be reviewed periodically reviewed to determine if there has been any medical improvement in your condition, and to determine whether you continue to be eligible for benefits. These reviews are called a medical continuing review or CDR. When you reach full retirement age, generally at age 65, you will no longer be eligible for disability benefits, but will enroll in the Social Security retirement program instead.
CPI-W (Consumer Price Index) An index prepared by the U. S. Department of Labor that charts the rise in costs for selected goods and services. This index is used to compute COLA increases.
Credits (Social Security Credits) Previously called "Quarters of Coverage." As you work, you and your employer pay FICA taxes, and you earn credits that count toward your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or survivors' benefits.
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Decision Notice (Award Letter or Denial Letter) When you file for Social Security, we decide if you will receive benefits. We send you an official letter explaining our decision and, if benefits are payable, we tell you the amount you will get each month.
Delayed Retirement Credits (DRC) Social Security benefits are increased (by a certain percentage depending on a person's date of birth) if retirement is delayed beyond full retirement age (FRA).  Increases based on delaying retirement no longer apply when people reach age 70, even if they continue to delay taking benefits. 
Dependent Benefits See Family Benefits
Direct Deposit The standard way to receive Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. Your money is sent electronically to an account in a financial institution (a bank, trust company, savings and loan association, brokerage agency or credit union).
Disability Benefits You can get disability benefits if you:
  • Are under full retirement age
  • Have enough Social Security credits and
  • Have a severe medical impairment (physical or mental) that's expected to prevent you from doing "substantial" work for a year or more, or have a condition that is expected to result in death.
DIB (Disability Insurance Benefits) DIB is an acronym for Disability Insurance Benefits, and refers to benefits available through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the federal insurance program funded through payroll taxes.
Documents (Proofs) Forms and papers such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, W2 forms, tax returns, deeds, etc., submitted by individuals applying for benefits and services.  We can accept only originals or copies certified by the agency that has the original document. See Evidence.
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Early Retirement You can start getting Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but your benefit amount will be less than you would have gotten at full retirement age. If you take retirement benefits early, your benefit will be permanently reduced, based on the number of months you received checks before you reached full retirement age. See Retirement Insurance Benefits (RIB).
Early Retirement Age Age 62.
Earnings Record (lifetime record of earnings) A chronological history of the amount you earn each year during your working lifetime.  The credits you earned remain on your Social Security record even when you change jobs or have no earnings.
Evidence (Proofs) "Proofs." The documents you must submit to support a factor of entitlement or payment amount. The people in your Social Security office can explain what evidence is required to establish entitlement and help you to get it.
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Family Benefits (Dependent Benefits) When you're eligible for retirement or disability benefits, the following people may receive benefits on your record:
  • Spouse if he or she is at least 62 years old (or any age but caring for an entitled child under age 16)
  • Children if they are unmarried and under age 18, under age 19 and a full-time elementary or secondary student
  • Children age 18 or older but disabled
  • Divorced ex-spouse.
Family Maximum The maximum amount of benefits payable to an entire family on any one worker's record.
FICA Tax FICA stands for "Federal Insurance Contributions Act." It's the tax withheld from your salary or self-employment income that funds the Social Security and Medicare programs.
FRA (Full Retirement Age) The age at which a person may first become entitled to unreduced retirement benefits.  Beginning with year 2000 for workers and spouses born 1938 or later and widows/widowers born 1940 or later, the retirement age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022. This increase affects the amount of the reduction for persons who begin receiving reduced benefits.
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Health Insurance (Medicare) The federal health insurance program for:
  • People 65 years of age or older
  • Certain younger people with disabilities and
  • People with permanent kidney failure with dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD (End-Stage Renal Disease).
Insured Status If you earned enough Social Security credits to meet the eligibility requirement for retirement or disability benefits or enable your dependants to establish eligibility for benefits due to your retirement, disability, or death, you have insured status.
Lifetime Earnings See Earnings Record.
Lump Sum Death Payment A one-time payment of $255 paid in addition to any monthly survivors insurance benefits that are due.  This benefit is paid only to your widow/widower or minor children.
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Maximum Earnings The maximum earnings we can count for any calendar year when computing your Social Security benefit.
Medicaid A joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with low incomes and limited resources. Medicaid programs vary from state to state, but most health care costs are covered if you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.
Medical Disability According to Social Security rules, you are considered medically disabled if you are unable to engage in any ''Substantial Gainful Activity'' (SGA) due to medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. In addition to your inability to perform your previous work, you are not able, considering age, education, and work experience, to engage in any other kind of SGA that exists in the national economy (1967 Amendments).
MOE (Month of Election) This usually applies to retirement claims. In certain situations, you can choose the month in which your benefits will start. There are many different factors that can affect when you want to begin receiving your payments. Your local office can help you decide.
NRA (Normal Retirement Age) See FRA (Full Retirement Age).
Number Holder(NH) See Wage Earner.
OASDI (Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance) The Social Security programs that provide monthly cash benefits to you and your dependants when you retire, to your surviving dependants, and to disabled worker beneficiaries and their dependants.
Onset Date The date of onset is the date when you first became disabled.
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Payment Dates for Social Security Benefits If you filed for Social Security benefits before May 1, 1997, your payments usually are dated and delivered on the 3rd of the month following the month for which the payment is due. For example, payments for January are delivered on February 3rd.

If the 3rd of the month is a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday, your payments are dated and delivered on the first day before the 3rd of the month which is not a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday. For example, if the 3rd is a Saturday or Sunday, payments are delivered on the preceding Friday.

If you filed for Social Security benefits May 1, 1997, or later, you are assigned one of three new payment days based on the date of birth of the insured person:

If you were born on the: Your payment will be delivered on the:
1st through 10th of the month Second Wednesday of the month
11th through 20th of the month Third Wednesday of the month
21st through end of the month Fourth Wednesday of the month
 
If your scheduled Wednesday payment day is a Federal holiday, we'll send your payment on the preceding day that is not a Federal legal holiday.
Payment Dates for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Payments SSI payments are usually dated and delivered on the first day of the month for which they are due. However, if the first falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday, they are dated and delivered on the first day preceding the first of the month which is not a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday.
PIA (Primary Insurance Amount) The monthly amount payable if you are a retired worker who begins receiving benefits at full retirement age or if you're disabled and have never received a retirement benefit reduced for age.
Presumptive Disability A provision that applies to certain medical conditions in which the Social Security may grant immediate SSI payments for a maximum of 6 months, Presumptive disability payments provide the SSI cash benefit while the claimant awaits the full Social Security review of their claim. If Social Security denies the SSI claim, repayment of presumptive disability benefits is not required.
Proofs See Evidence
Protective Filing Date The date you first contact us about filing for benefits. It may be used to establish an earlier application date than when we receive your signed application.
QC (Quarter of Coverage) Social Security "credits." As you work and pay taxes, you earn credits that count toward eligibility for future Social Security benefits. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or for their spouse or children to qualify for survivors' benefits. During their working lifetime most workers earn more credits than needed to be eligible for Social Security. These extra credits do not increase eventual Social Security benefits. However, the income earned may increase the benefit amount. See Credits, Social Security.
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Record of Earnings See Earnings Record.
Reduction Months Months beginning with the first month you're entitled to reduced benefits up to, but not including, the month in which you reach full retirement age.
Representative Payee If you receive Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security Income and become unable to handle your own financial affairs, after a careful investigation, we appoint a relative, a friend, or an interested party to handle your Social Security matters. Representative payees are required to maintain complete accounting records and periodically provide reports to Social Security.
Retirement Age - Early Age 62  (See Retirement Age - Minimum)
Retirement Age - Full Benefits Full retirement age was 65 for many years.  However, beginning with the year 2000 (for workers and spouses born 1938 or later, or widow and widowers born 1940 or later), the retirement age increases gradually from age 65 until it reaches age 67 in the year 2022.
Retirement Age - Minimum The minimum age for retirement-age 62 for workers, and age 60 for widows or widowers. You can choose a reduced benefit anytime before you reach full retirement age.
Retirement Earnings Test If you get Social Security benefits, are under full retirement age, and work, your earnings from wages and/or self-employment that exceed a certain maximum will cause a deduction in your monthly benefits.
Retroactive Benefits (Back Pay) "Back Pay." Monthly benefits that you may be entitled to before the month you actually file an application, if you meet the entitlement requirements.
RIB (Retirement Insurance Benefit) Money that's payable to you at full retirement age (you can get reduced benefits as early as age 62) if you have enough Social Security credits.
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SEI (Self-employment/Self-employment Income) You are self-employed if you operate a trade, business or profession, either individually or as a partner, and have net earnings of $400 or more in a taxable year.
Social Security Social Security is based on a simple concept: While you work, you pay taxes into the Social Security system, and when you retire or become disabled; you, your spouse and your dependent children receive monthly benefits that are based on your reported earnings. Also, your survivors can collect benefits if you die.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) A wage replacement income for those who pay FICA taxes, when they have a disability meeting Social Security Disability rules.
Social Security Number
(Social Security Card)
Your first and continuous link with Social Security is your nine-digit Social Security Number (SSN). Your SSN helps us to maintain an accurate record of your wages or self-employment earnings that are covered under the Social Security Act, and to monitor your record once you start getting Social Security benefits.
Social Security Office Your local Social Security office is the place where you can:
  • Apply for a Social Security number
  • Check on your earnings record
  • Apply for Social Security benefits, black lung benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and hospital insurance (Medicare) protection
  • Enroll for medical insurance
  • Get help applying for food stamps and
  • Learn everything you need to know about your rights and obligations under the Social Security law.
Spouse You are the spouse of the worker if, when he or she applied for benefits:
  • You and the worker were validly married or
  • You would have the status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if they had no will or
  • You went through a marriage ceremony in good faith, which would have been valid except for a legal impediment.
SS-5 The application form you need to get a Social Security number, a replacement card, or a duplicate card. 
SSN Social Security number. See Social Security Number (Social Security Card).
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) A Federal supplemental income program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes).  It helps aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income by providing monthly cash payments to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. 
Survivor (Survivor Benefits) Benefits based on your record (if you should die) are paid to:
  • Your widow/widower age 60 or older, 50 or older if disabled, or any age if caring for a child under age 16 or who became disabled before age 22
  • Your children, if they are unmarried and under age 18, under 19 but still in school, or 18 or older but disabled before age 22
  • Your parents if you provided at least one-half of their support.

A special one-time lump sum payment of $255 may be made to your spouse or minor children. An ex-spouse could also be eligible for a widow/widower's benefit on your record. 

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) means any significant activity, physical or mental, which is performed for remuneration or profit over a reasonable period of time. To qualify, an individual’s monthly-earned income must be less than $900, the SGA amount for 2007. SGA dollar amounts are adjusted every January, a process called indexing.
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Wage Earner A person who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or self-employment income. Sometimes referred to as the "Number Holder" or "Worker."
Wages All payment for services performed for an employer. Wages do not have to be cash. The cash value of all compensation paid to an employee in any form other than cash is also considered wages (unless the form of payment is specifically not covered under the Social Security Act).
Waiting Period There is a full five-month waiting period, after the onset date of the disability before Social Security Disability and/or supplemental security income benefits are paid to a beneficiary. A month is considered to be a part of the waiting period, when the individual has not earned any income or their income is below Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) ($900, as of 2007).
Widow You are the widow/widower of the insured person if, at the time the insured person died:
  • You and the insured person were validly married or
  • You would have the status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if they had no will or
  • You went through a marriage ceremony in good faith that would have been valid except for a legal impediment.

The minimum age for

  • Disabled widows benefits is age 50.
  • Retirement for widows is age 60.
Work Credits See Credits or Quarters of Coverage.
Worker See Wage Earner.
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