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SSA Disability Benefits- How much time do I need to work to qualify?

Will I get SSA Disability Benefits?


One of the most confusing aspects of disability benefits is understanding the work requirements for SSDI or SSI benefits. Recently on our disability forum we had an applicant ask, “How much employment will I need to qualify for disability benefits?” This blog will address requirements for both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) work requirements


When applicants ask about disability benefits they are generally asking about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is offered to disabled applicants who are not able to work for at least 12 continuous months and who have earned work credits to be considered “insured.”

Many SSDI applicants will be denied because they have not accumulated enough work credits or they have earned work credits in the past but too much time has elapsed from the date they were last employed and they are no longer insured for SSDI.

The best way to find out about work credits is to review the SSA website. According to the SSA :

“The number of work credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.”

The good news is it is not that difficult to earn a work credit. In the year 2012, a worker must earn $1,130 in covered earnings to get one Social Security work credit. Workers may accumulate a maximum of four credits each year when their covered earnings reaches $4,520.

The catch, and this confuses a lot of SSDI applicants, is generally 20 of the credits must be earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify for disability benefits with work credits.

So what does this mean? It means there is a chance that even if you worked your whole life and then stopped working for a number of years when you go to apply for SSDI disability benefits they may tell you that you are no longer insured because you have passed what they call your DLI or date last insured.

If you are older and the SSA tells you this, it might be time to talk to a disability lawyer. Some applicants are able to verify that their date of disability, or when they became unable to work at a substantial and gainful level, is actually before their DLI and they might qualify. But like I said, this is a tricky argument and may take some legal wrangling from someone that understands the process well.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and work requirements for disability benefits


What about SSI? If you have not worked and do not have enough work credits for SSDI you will continuously be denied. SSI, which is a cash assistance program for the blind, aged and disabled, may be another option for you. The benefits are generally lower than SSDI but since you did not pay anything into the SSA system you cannot expect to take anything out.