In order to determine your eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSD or SSDI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider your work history, including the amount of your earnings, the number of years you worked, and how old you are when you became disabled. To be eligible for social security disability benefits you need social security “work credits” which you earn when you work at a job and pay Social Security taxes.
The dollar amount of your earnings for Social security credits:
The amount of earnings is important because you have to earn a certain dollar amount to get a credit of work. For 2017, SSA gives 1 credit for each $1,300.00 of earnings, up to the maximum of 4 credits per year ($5,200 for the year to earn the maximum 4 credits). The dollar amount it takes to earn one work credit is calculated on a yearly basis and the amount required is increased every year. For example, 2016 SSA gave 1 credit for each $1,260 of earnings ($5,040 for the year to earn the maximum 4 credits).
How Many Work Credits you Need for to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits:
To qualify for disability benefits you need a certain number of social security credits based on your age, i.e. the number of credits you need for disability is how old you are when you become disabled.
Generally, if you are 31 or older you need at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled (roughly working 5 years out of the last 10 years). The older you become the more credits you will need to qualify for benefits. Specifically, after age 42 you need an additional 2 credits for every 2 years you are older. The below table shows examples of the age you became disabled and the number of work credits you would need (or years of work you would need) to qualify for social security disability benefits:
|Disabled at Age ||Credits You Need ||Years of Work |
|21 through 24 ||6 ||1 ½ |
|24 through 30 ||6 to 18 ||1 ½ – 4 ½ |
|31 through 42 ||20 ||5 |
|44 ||22 ||5 ½ |
|46 ||24 ||6 |
|48 ||26 ||6 ½ |
|50 ||28 ||7 |
|52 ||30 ||7 ½ |
|54 ||32 ||8 |
|56 ||34 ||8 ½ |
|58 ||36 ||9 |
|60 ||38 ||9 ½ |
|62 or older ||40 ||10 |
* This table does not cover every situation.
Work credits do not have to be completed all at the same time, so if you stop working and then go back to work the credits will be added together. For example, you may have worked and earned a credit in quarter 1 of 2017, not worked in quarter 2 of 2017 earning no credit, and go back to work in quarter 3 of 2017, therefore quarter 1 and 3 would be added together for 2017.
Work credits will stay on your lifelong earning record but you have to earn a certain number of credits from the time you became disabled to qualify for disability benefits. The credits you earn will remain on your social security record if you stop working for a time or if you change jobs, however the credits you earn do have an “expiration date” for the purposes of a look back period for disability insurance status. The ‘expiration date’ of your work credits in a social security disability case is called your Date Last Insured as it refers to the date your social security disability insurance (eligibility for SSDI) will end. The “date last insured” (DLI) is the last date that an individual is eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Special Work Credit Situations:
Self-employed individuals earn work credits the same way as employees do by paying social security taxes.
There are special rules for other kinds of work including, homemaker, farm work, work at a church that can earn your credits. Military service can also earn you additional credits.
Family Members May Receive Benefits:
Other individuals in your family may be eligible for benefits under your disability benefits. Family members of workers who are eligible for SSD may be eligible for SSD, including children, disabled adult children, spouses, ex-spouses, widow/widower, and dependent parents.
Check to assure your earnings records are accurate:
When SSA determines that you have enough credits to qualify for disability benefits, they will take the average of your earnings from your work to determine how much your monthly benefit will be.
The Social Security Administration will compare your name and social security number on the W-2 your employer sends to you each year with SSA’s own records. The earnings that appear on your W-2 will be recorded on a lifelong earning record. To protect your benefits qualification, you should make sure that all information is correct including your name and social security number on your W-2 and your employer’s payroll record.
What if I am not eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?
The good news is even if you do not have enough credits or have never worked, you may still qualify for social security by applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on a financial need basis. To learn more about the difference between SSDI and SSI, read the information on this page concerning the difference between SSDI and SSI.