hello world!

Factors That Can Increase SSDI Benefits

Last updated: October 10, 2023

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can be complicated to understand. This article aims to shed light on the factors that can increase or decrease your SSDI benefits, providing a comprehensive understanding of how these benefits are calculated and the circumstances that can affect them. 

Whether you're a current SSDI recipient or are considering applying, this information is crucial to ensure you're maximizing your benefits and staying informed about potential changes.

Understanding SSDI Benefits Calculation

This guide unpacks the factors influencing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. It elucidates elements enhancing or decreasing SSDI, with special emphasis on California specifics. 

Delving into personal circumstances' effects, it offers strategies for navigating or contesting benefit changes. Essential for potential applicants, current beneficiaries, or those assisting others, this article provides crucial SSDI insights.

The Basics of SSDI Calculation

SSDI benefits are primarily determined by an individual's lifetime average earnings under Social Security. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a formula, indexing a claimant’s earnings against the national average wage. The SSA calculates your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) from your 35 highest-earning years.

From AIME, the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is deduced, which then determines your benefit amount through a tiered approach. If you have less than 35 years of work, zeros are factored in, potentially reducing benefits. The maximum SSDI benefit adjusts annually; for 2021, it's $3,148. Essentially, SSDI benefits are shaped by one's income history, favoring lower lifetime earners. Understanding this process is vital for informed decisions.

What Factors Can Increase SSDI Benefits?

Your SSDI benefits, while rooted in work history and earnings, can be enhanced by other elements. Awareness of these elements facilitates optimized financial planning and ensures beneficiaries access the maximum SSDI benefits due to them.  Two critical factors are:

Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs)

Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) ensure SSDI benefits retain their purchasing power amidst inflation. COLAs adjust benefits in line with the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). 

If the CPI-W indicates a rise in living costs from one year's third quarter to the next's, SSDI benefits adjust proportionally from the subsequent January. For instance, a 2% CPI-W inflation means a 2% SSDI benefit increase. 

However, if the CPI-W remains stagnant or drops, benefits stay unchanged until the next rise. The SSA announces COLAs every October, allowing beneficiaries to anticipate changes. Understanding COLAs is vital for maximizing SSDI benefits.

Back Payments and Retroactive Benefits

Back payments and retroactive benefits are key elements that can enhance your SSDI benefits. These terms refer to the funds that Social Security owes you for the period between your eligibility for benefits and when you started receiving them.

  • Back Payments: This term refers to the benefits you are entitled to from when you applied for SSDI benefits until they were approved. The Social Security Administration (SSA) may take several months to process your application. Once approved, you are eligible for benefits dating back to the sixth full month after your disability began.

  • Retroactive Benefits:If you had a disability before applying for SSDI benefits, you might be eligible. The SSA can pay you up to a year before your application date, excluding the first five full months of your disability.

Both back payments and retroactive benefits are usually paid as a lump sum, followed by monthly SSDI benefits. However, remember that not everyone qualifies for retroactive benefits; it largely depends on when your disability began and when you applied for benefits.

Changes in Personal Circumstances and SSDI Benefits

Changes can significantly influence your SSDI benefits in your circumstances. Factors such as reaching full retirement age, incarceration, or shifts in dependent status can trigger adjustments in your SSDI benefits. Staying informed about these potential changes can help you avoid unexpected reductions or discontinuations in your benefits.

Reaching Full Retirement Age

Upon reaching full retirement age (typically 66-67), SSDI benefits convert into retirement benefits without altering the monthly amount. This change removes the earnings limits associated with the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), permitting unrestricted work income. However, increased earnings may carry tax implications for Social Security benefits. Awareness and preparation for these shifts are crucial for uninterrupted financial support in retirement.

Incarceration and SSDI Benefits

Incarceration halts Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits after 30 consecutive days post-conviction. The first 30 days don't trigger suspension, but subsequent months do. 

Post-release, SSDI benefits aren't automatic; notify SSA with release documents to reinstate. Dependents listed on your SSDI may continue receiving benefits during your incarceration if they meet SSA criteria. Familiarity with these rules ensures effective SSDI management during periods of confinement.

Changes in Dependent Status

SSDI benefits extend to dependents of the disabled individual. These auxiliary benefits may be available to spouses, children, and others based on the individual's work history. However, the SSA caps total family benefits between 150-180% of the disability amount. 

Life events like marriage, divorce, or a child's birth can alter SSDI distribution. While a dependent's ineligibility may adjust the family's share, it doesn't increase the individual's SSDI. For accurate benefits management, report dependent status changes to the SSA promptly.

Appealing SSDI Benefits Decisions

Should you disagree with a decision made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) concerning your SSDI benefits, you have the right to contest the decision. This could range from disputes over the benefit amount to denial or cessation of benefits.

The SSA has a four-tiered appeals process in place, which includes:

1. Request for Reconsideration: The first step involves a comprehensive review of the claim by an individual not involved in the original decision. This reviewer will consider all previous evidence and any new evidence you provide.

2. Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge: If the reconsideration decision doesn't favor you, you can request a hearing. This usually involves appearing before an Administrative Law Judge who wasn't part of the original decision or the reconsideration.

3. Review by the Appeals Council: If you're still not satisfied, you can request a further review by the Appeals Council. However, the Appeals Council may decline the request if it deems the hearing decision was correct.

4. Federal Court Review: The final step in the appeals process involves filing a lawsuit in a federal district court.

It's important to note that your appeal request must be submitted within 60 days from the date you receive your decision letter. Navigating this process can be intricate and demanding, and it may be beneficial to seek advocacy or legal representation, particularly for hearings and federal court reviews.

Stay alert, ask questions, and don't hesitate to seek assistance when navigating the appeals process. Remember, you can question and challenge any decision related to your SSDI benefits.


1. What is an important factor that can increase Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits?

The most significant factor influencing SSDI benefits is the applicant's average lifetime earnings before their disability began. Higher earnings records typically result in higher monthly benefit amounts.

2. Can dependents affect a person's SSDI benefits?

Yes, dependents such as minor or disabled children, or a spouse aged 62 or older, can increase SSDI benefits. The total amount payable to the family is about 150% to 180% of the recipient's disability benefit.

3. Do inflation rates have any effect on SSDI benefits?

SSDI benefits increase slightly most years based on the Cost-Of-Living Adjustment (COLA), which the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates using inflation data.

4. How can returning to work impact SSDI benefits?

Returning to work may reduce or completely halt SSDI benefits. Social Security Administration offers work incentives, including a trial work period for recipients to continue receiving full benefits.

5. Can changes in marital status affect SSDI benefits?

Yes, changes in marital status might affect SSDI benefits. For instance, in some circumstances, getting married or divorced can cause reductions in SSDI benefits.


In conclusion, the amount one receives in SSDI benefits is not static. Various factors, from changes in national average wage index to a recipient's work history and current employment status, can influence benefit amounts. It's essential for individuals to understand these variables to anticipate potential fluctuations and manage their financial expectations surrounding SSDI benefits effectively.

If you live in Florida and looking into

SSI Benefits, read more about it from our blogs at Disability Help.
Do You Qualify?
Disability Evaluation
Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
Do You Qualify?
Disability Evaluation
17595 Harvard Ave. C2480-C Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 979-6850
© 2024 Disability Help. All Rights Reserved.
DMCA.com Protection Status
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram