RSDI: Social Security Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance

The Social Security Administration offers several different types of benefits for those who no longer work and their family members.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

What is RSDI? RSDI stands for "Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance" and is an acronym for the three types of benefits that the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays. Another name for the Social Security program is "Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program," or OASDI. This article will cover the basics of Social Security RSDI and what RSDI benefits are available.

What Are RSDI Benefits?

RSDI (also called Title II) has been around since Social Security began as a program to help the United States recover from the Great Depression. RSDI is insurance that workers pay for with their FICA payroll taxes (or self-employment taxes). Social Security was initially designed to help widows with children and seniors who were no longer able to work to support themselves.

Today, RSDI benefits are still designed to replace the income lost when someone is no longer able to work. If you've worked and paid into the system for long enough to qualify, Social Security will pay you monthly benefits when you can't work anymore—whether because of disability or retirement. And your dependents should be able to get Social Security survivors benefits should you die.

Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits are the "R" in RSDI. If you've worked at jobs that paid into the Social Security system for the required number of years, you'll be eligible for retirement benefits through Social Security when you retire. How much your retirement benefit will be depends on two things:

  • how old you are when you retire, and
  • how much you earned when you worked and paid FICA taxes.

The amount of your monthly Social Security retirement benefit will be a percentage of your highest 35 years of earnings.
To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, you must have worked (and paid Social Security taxes) long enough to have earned 40 work credits (about 10 years total). The work doesn't need to be continuous—you can leave the workforce for periods of time and the credits you've earned will still count toward the 40 required.

Once you've earned enough work credits, you can choose when to retire. There are limitations, though, and when you retire will affect the amount of your monthly retirement benefit. Your options include:

  • taking early retirement (as early as age 62) and receiving a reduced retirement benefit
  • waiting until full retirement age (66 or 67) to receive full retirement benefits, or
  • working past full retirement age (up to age 70) to increase the amount of your full retirement benefit.

The full retirement age is 66 for anyone born between 1943 and 1954. It gradually increases to 67 for those born from 1955-1960. And it's 67 for anyone born after 1960.

You can find more information on Social Security retirement benefits in Nolo's Social Security and Retirement Center.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Disability insurance is the "DI" in RSDI. It's synonymous with Social Security disability, which is known by various other acronyms such as:

  • SSD - Social Security disability
  • SSDI - Social Security disability insurance
  • DIB - disability insurance benefit, and
  • Title II benefits.

To qualify for Social Security disability insurance benefits, you must meet both of the following requirements:

  • you've worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain amount of time (and recently enough), and
  • you have a medical condition that prevents you from working and is expected to last at least one year (or until death).

Have You Worked Long Enough for Disability?

To meet the non-medical requirements for Social Security disability benefits, you'll need to have earned enough work credits, and you must have worked recently. How long you must work to qualify for disability is determined by your age.

And at least some of your work credits must have been earned recently. If you haven't worked in the last ten years, you won't qualify for disability. Age is again a factor in how much you have to have worked in recent years. For instance, if you're 40 years old, you'll need to have worked at least five of the last ten years to qualify for SSDI. But if you're only 25, you'll only need to have worked two of the last four years.

Do You Qualify Medically for Disability?

To medically qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must prove that your condition limits your ability to function so much that you can't work. Your impairment—whether due to injury or illness—must be "medically determinable." This means that your medical records must prove you have a severe mental or physical impairment by including notes from your doctors about clinical exams or test results obtained by using acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.

Social Security will consider you disabled if you meet at least one of these two requirements:

If Social Security agrees that you're medically disabled and you're younger than full retirement age, you can receive disability benefits roughly equal to what your full retirement benefits would have been. In this sense, disability insurance is kind of like an early retirement plan for those who become ill or injured. (But this "early retirement" benefit isn't reduced like retirement benefits are if you retire before reaching full retirement age.)

For more information on disability benefits, see our Social Security disability (SSD) section.

Dependents Benefits Available Through Social Security

If you're a disabled worker or retiree who qualifies for Social Security retirement or Social Security disability benefits (an "insured worker"), your family might also qualify for dependent benefits. Your family's dependent benefits would be based on your earnings record.

Dependents benefits. To qualify for dependents benefits, your child must be:

  • younger than 18 (19 if still in high school), and
  • unmarried.

Also, a dependent adult child who is disabled (over 18 now but disabled before age 22) can also receive Social Security dependent benefits.

Spousal benefits. If you're an insured worker, your spouse can get Social Security benefits in certain conditions. To qualify, your spouse must be:

  • at least 62 or older, or
  • caring for your child who is under 16 years old (or disabled) and is eligible for dependents benefits.

If you're divorced, you might qualify for Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse's work record if all of the following are true:

  • you were married to your ex-spouse for at least ten years
  • you haven't remarried (if you remarried and that marriage later ended, you still qualify under this requirement)
  • you're 62 or older, and
  • your ex-spouse is eligible for SSDI benefits.

Other dependents, including your grandchildren or parents, can also be eligible to get Social Security benefits based on your record. Learn more about Social Security spousal and dependent benefits.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

The "S" in RSDI is for "Survivors" benefits. These are benefits paid to the family of a worker who dies. If you're the widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse of a worker who qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you can get a survivors benefit (and sometimes a small one-time death benefit as well). Minor children of an insured worker who has died also qualify.

For you and your family to be eligible for survivors benefits, the deceased person must have worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits—that is, they must have earned enough work credits. It doesn't matter if your deceased family member ever actually collected Social Security, only that they were eligible when they died.

For instance, if your spouse hadn't retired yet, but died at 68, you might be eligible for a survivors benefit. But there are other requirements you must meet to get widow or widower benefits. To qualify you must be:

  • at least 60 years old (or 50 or older if you have a disability), or
  • caring for the deceased worker's child who is under age 16 (or has a disability and receives child's benefits).

For a dependent child to qualify for Social Security survivors benefits, the child must be unmarried and fall into one of the following categories:

  • The child is younger than 18 (or up to age 19 if still in high school).
  • The child is 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

In some cases, other family members might be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. The deceased worker's stepchild, grandchild, adopted child, or step-grandchild might qualify for benefits if the child was a dependent of the person who died. Also, the parents of a deceased worker who are at least 62 years old and who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support can also qualify.

Learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.

Updated September 14, 2022

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