Approximating Social Security Disability Benefits

Often I am asked, “How much will I get if I am approved for Social Security Disability?” My first response is that I cannot tell you off hand because every person’s benefit is different depending on their earnings. The next thing I advise a client is that an easy way is to look at the pamphlet that the Social Security Administration sends out yearly. Often, however, the claimant does not have that pamphlet and I am left doing it the hard way.

In order to approximate or calculate benefits for a Social Security Disability it is important to copy or review the earnings records out of the claimant’s folder. The representative should then go over with the claimant those earnings records to see if it at least is close to what the claimant recalls earnings being over the covered period of time. More likely than not the claimant will not be able to remember specifically, but it will at least be a close approximation.

In order to get an approximation of the benefit for the claimant, it is necessary to figure out the claimant’s primary insurance amount or “PIA“. The PIA is an essential figure for determining the amount the claimant would receive for all benefits under the Social Security Administration, including retirement, early retirement, delayed retirement, and disability. In order to determine the PIA and benefits for someone on disability it is important to know the definitions contained in the regulations and what regulations apply.

The regulations state that primary insurance amount is calculated using several calculations and that the method which results in the highest PIA will be used. 20 CFR §404.204(a). There are three basic methods for computing the PIA. They are:

(1) Average in-depth monthly earnings;

(2) Average monthly wage; and

(3) Guaranteed alternative method.

20 CFR §404.210-404.230

The year in which eligibility is established affects how the PIA is determined. If that year or “benchmark year” occurs before 1979 the PIA is determined by reviewing the Social Security Regulations at 20 CFR §404.222. Specifically, there is a table that will determine what the PIA is. This Averaged Index Monthly Earning method then requires an adjustment for inflation. Specific instructions are contained in the regulations.

If the benchmark year occurs after 1979 then the PIA is determined through a mathematical computation contained in 20 CFR §§404.211, et seq. Following the regulations will provide a good approximation of the PIA for the claimant.

Once the monthly amounts are determined, one can calculate the family maximum benefits under disability. The formula for calculating the maximum family benefit for disability is determined by one of two ways:

(1) Multiply the worker’s AIME (averaged index monthly earning) by 85% or

(2) Multiply the worker’s PIA (primary insurance amount) by 150%.

The family maximum benefit is the lower of the two figures derived from above.

One must also keep in mind that reductions in benefits may occur for many reasons. Such reasons would be a claimant is under age 65, is currently entitled to disability insurance benefits and certain public disability benefits or eligibility for a government pension to the claimant or a spouse from non-covered employment. See 20 CFR §404.408(a).

If you need more information about a personal injury matter (car wreck, boating accident, slip and fall, etc.), SSD/SSI matter, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation. We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or through our website at




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