Every working American pays into Social Security’s Disability Insurance fund. And while you may groan at the thought of paying another tax, this one is actually beneficial. The Social Security Disability program pays benefits to people who are no longer able to work due to a severe, long-term medical condition.

However, getting disability benefits isn’t a matter of applying online and waiting for a check in the mail. The Social Security Administration uses the following five-step process to determine if applicants are eligible for benefits.

Step 1: Are you working?

While you are allowed to do some work while receiving disability benefits, the Social Security Administration wants to make sure you aren’t engaging in substantial gainful activity. If you earn more than $1,090 per month, then you are engaging in substantial gainful activity. However, if you are earning less than that amount, your application will go to step two.

Step 2: Is your condition too severe to work?

In order to receive disability benefits, your medical condition must be severe enough to keep you from working for one year or result in death. If the Social Security Administration determines that your medical condition meets these requirements, your application will proceed to step three.

Step 3: Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?

The Social Security Administration has a list of conditions considered so severe they automatically qualify for benefits. If your condition is on this list, you will be approved for benefits. If your condition is not on this list, your application will proceed to step four.

Step 4: Can you do the work you previously did?

If your condition is not on the list of disabling conditions or doesn’t meet the requirements of the listing, the Social Security Administration will look to see whether your condition interferes with your ability to perform past job duties. They will analyze things like your exertion limits, how well you are able to concentrate and how often you miss work. If your condition does affect your ability to do previous work, your application will move on to step five.

Step 5: Can you do any other type of work?

In the final step of the disability determination process, the Social Security Administration will evaluate your job skills, age, education, and past work experience to determine whether you could reasonably be expected to work in another position that may better accommodate your limitations. If they determine there are jobs that you could do given your condition, your application will be denied, but if they decide you would not be able to adapt to new work, you will be approved for benefits.

Social Security Disability benefits have supported millions of Americans as they go through this difficult time in their lives. While we all hope we never have to use these benefits, we will all be glad they’re available if we ever do need them.

To read more information and tips on navigating the disability application process, visit