I'm not disabled. Should I care about Social Security disability?

If you don't suffer from a disabling condition, you may not have thought much about Social Security disability. Does it even apply to you? Is it basically a hand-out?

As the Social Security Administration explains in its fact sheet, Social Security disability does apply to you, and it's not a hand-out. If you've been working an average job, you've been paying Social Security taxes the whole time -- and that means you've been earning your coverage under what is essentially a government-sponsored disability insurance program.

More important, a disability isn't something you can avoid through good planning. You can reduce your risk by living a healthy life and being careful, but you can't eliminate the risk you could be in a terrible car accident or suffer from an aneurism. Disabling illnesses and injuries are, by their nature, unpredictable.

Consider this: If you're an American 20-year-old today, you're facing a one-in-four chance of sustaining a serious, disabling injury or illness before you reach retirement age. According to the SSA, at least 56 million Americans live with some kind of disability. About one in 10 Americans, or 38 million people, lives with a severe disability.

Because the standards for receiving Social Security disability are extremely strict, people who receive benefits through the program are among the most severely disabled. One telling statistic is that beneficiaries of SSD are three times more likely to die than their non-disabled peers. People who become disabled at age 55 or later are even more likely to die than their peers -- the SSA says that one in every five men and one in every seven women who become disabled at that age will die within five years.

A long-term disability that keeps you from working can be an economic catastrophe. Even though SSD payments are modest, it's good to know they're available to help you make ends meet.

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