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Why would I get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and not SSDI?

Recently on our disability forum a user asked, “I got in a car accident about a month ago and I have lost the use of both of my legs. I have worked construction all of my life. I am a fifty-eight year old man and I do not think I can retrain for new work. The SSA is telling me that I do not have enough work credits for SSDI benefits, and I will only qualify for Supplemental Security Income. How is this possible? I have worked odd jobs all of my life.”


Reasons you can be denied SSDI benefits

Workers may qualify for either SSI benefits or SSDI benefits if they have a severe health condition which does not allow them to work for at least 12 continuous months. If the SSA has told you that you will qualify for SSI benefits but not SSDI benefits, however, it is not because they do not think you are disabled. Most likely it is because you do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. So let’s take a closer look at work credits and what you have to do to earn them.

How do I get work credits?

According to the SSA, workers who are employed and earning an income can earn one credit for each $1,260 of wages or self-employment income. When you have earned $5,040, you've earned your four credits for the year.

Issues arise for workers, even those who have worked hard and consistently their whole life, however, if they have not paid taxes. For example, many workers work and earn cash wages or are paid “under the table,” which means they earn income which is not taxed or reported to the federal government.

If this is the type of employment arrangement you have had over the last ten, fifteen or twenty years although you may have been working hard, you have not been earning work credits and will not be insured for SSDI benefits.

What do I do if I do not have enough work credits for SSDI benefits?

If you do not have enough work credits for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) the first step is to talk to the SSA. Find out how many credits you have and how many you need.

According to the SSA, the number of credits will vary based on the age in which you became disabled but most older workers will need “40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled.”

Unfortunately, given your situation, you may not have the ability to go back and earn more work credits, regardless of whether you are short two or twenty work credits. In this case your only option is to accept Supplemental Security Income.

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