Before you can get Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must qualify medically and meet certain financial eligibility criteria. (Learn what it takes to meet Social Security's medical requirements for disability.)
To meet the non-medical eligibility requirements for SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes (FICA) long enough to have earned enough "work credits." Work credits are based on having earned a certain amount of money each year.
If you've earned enough work credits, you'll be considered "insured" for SSDI purposes. If you don't have enough work credits, you're not considered insured, and you're not eligible to collect SSDI benefits based on your own work record.
Let's look at how work credits are earned and how to know if you have enough to be eligible for SSDI benefits.
Work credits are awarded on a yearly basis and are based on the amount of money you earned and paid FICA taxes on. You can earn up to four work credits per year. If you earn even a modest amount of money in a calendar year, you'll likely receive all four credits for that year.
For the year 2023, every $1,640 you make (subject to some limitations) earns you another work credit for Social Security purposes, up to the maximum of four per year. So, if you make $6,560 or more in 2023, you'll receive the maximum four work credits available for the year.
The amount of money you must make to earn one credit changes every year. You can see exactly how much you had to make each year to earn work credits for that year on the Social Security Administration website.
Not all income counts towards work credits. Only wages and self-employment income are counted. Income from pension payments or investments doesn't count toward work credits (because you don't pay FICA or self-employment taxes on that income).
Whether you have enough work credits to be eligible for SSDI benefits will depend on a few factors. Social Security will consider the following:
The work credit qualification is an all-or-nothing requirement—if you have enough work credits and are otherwise eligible, you can qualify for SSDI. There's no "partial" eligibility if you have some but not enough work credits. And there's no additional advantage if you have more than enough work credits.
The amount of work credits you need to be eligible for SSDI varies depending on your age. Younger people generally need fewer work credits to qualify for Social Security disability than older people need.
Also, you must have worked recently. A long gap in your employment could disqualify you, even if you have enough work credits based on your age. If you're older than 31, you need to have earned at least 20 work credits (roughly five years) in the past ten years. (There's an exception to this rule for certain blind applicants.)
In setting the number of work credits required for SSDI eligibility, Social Security uses four age groups:
If you're under age 24, you can qualify for SSDI if you have at least 6 credits earned in the 3 years immediately prior to when your disability began.
If you're between 24 and 31 years old, you can qualify if you have at least half of the number of credits you possibly could have earned after you turned 21. For example, if you're 29 years old, you could have earned a total of 28 credits (4 credits per year times 8 years since you turned 21). Therefore, at 29, you'd need at least 14 credits to qualify for SSDI.
If you became disabled between the ages of 31 and 42, then you need 20 credits.
If you're older than 42, you need between 20 and 40 credits, depending on the age at which you became disabled. Use the following chart:
|Age You Became Disabled||How Many Credits You Need||How Many Years of Work You Need|
|62 or Older||40||10|
If you've earned enough work credits to be insured by SSDI and you meet the medical requirements for Social Security disability, you'll be eligible for monthly disability payments. And your family might also be able to get "auxiliary benefits," without having earned any work credits of their own.
For instance, a child (or disabled adult child) of someone who receives SSDI can receive Social Security benefits even if the child has never worked. Likewise, your spouse or ex-spouse might also be eligible for benefits based on your work record, even if they're not disabled.
Learn more about the Social Security disability benefits that might be available to your family (look under "Other Benefits").