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SSDI- have not worked since 2003, why was I denied?

SSDI and insufficient work credits


Many workers who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA) because the SSA determines they do not have enough work credits to be considered “insured.” But many claimants may be surprised to find they do not have sufficient work credits if they have worked all their life but stopped working for a period of time prior to applying for SSDI benefits.

Recently on our disability forum we had a worker who had worked for many years, quit working in 2003 but waited until 2013 to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. Now that the worker is completely disabled and unable to work they assumed the work credits they had generated in the decade prior would be sufficient. Unfortunately, that is not quite the way the system works.


Do I have enough work credits for SSDI?


There are several ways to determine if you are insured for SSDI benefits. You can either contact the SSA, or review your annual Statement of Earnings which is sent to you every year.

So how do you generate work credits? According to the Social Security Administration, in 2013, you earn one credit for each $1,130 of wages or self-employment income. When you’ve earned $4,520, you’ve earned your four credits for the year. The amount of work credits you will need to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance will vary based on your age when you become disabled, but most claimants will need 40 work credits to qualify.

Now, that seems easy enough but it doesn’t answer the question why you may have had enough work credits in the past but you are no longer considered insured…here’s the catch: According to the SSA, “20 of the work credits you earn must be generated in the last 10 years ending with the year you became disabled.”

For the disability applicant who posed the question above, if they are 54 years of age they would have needed 32 work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) but 20 of those credits must have been earned in the 10 years before they became disabled. But according to this disability applicant they have not worked in the last 10 years so even if they had 32 work credits in 2003, the fact that they stopped working for ten years means that in the last 10 years they have generated zero work credits.

What are my options if the SSA says I am not insured?


So what can this disability applicant do? Unfortunately, if they do not have enough work credits they will be automatically denied SSDI benefits, and it does not do any good to appeal or apply again and again. There are, however, a few options for this applicant. They could:

  1. Go back to work and generate more work credits.

  2. Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Although SSI generally has a lower payout it may be the best option. SSI will provide a small monthly cash benefit and Medicaid benefits, in most states.

  3. Talk to a lawyer. Some claimants may be able to prove that their disability date was before their date last insured or DLI date. If you have not performed substantial work and you can prove you became disabled prior to the date you lost your SSDI eligibility you may win SSDI benefits. This could be tough for some claimants to prove.


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