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Work credits for SSDI

In this article:
Insufficient Work Credits | Working while applying for SSDI | Working while receiving SSDI

According to the SSA, the number of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits will depend on your age when you become disabled. For instance, most workers will need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year they become disabled. Younger workers, however, may qualify for SSDI benefits, although their pay out might be substantially less than an older worker.

For example, if you become disabled prior to the age 24, you may qualify for SSDI benefits if you have earned six work credits in the three year period ending when your disability starts. Claimants who are 24 to 31 may qualify if they have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the period of time they become disabled. Claimants who are thirty-one years and older generally will need 20 or more credits.

Keep in mind, most workers must earn at least 20 of their work credits in the ten years immediately before they became disabled. Claimants who work for many years, stop working and wait too long to apply for SSDI may find they are no longer insured for SSDI benefits.

How do you earn work credits? Workers must work and pay employment taxes. If you are working and getting paid "under the table," because you are not paying employment taxes, the SSA will have no record of your work history and you will not have work credits.

Maximum number of work credits earned per year

According to the Social Security Administration, in the year 2013, you must earn $1,160 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $4,640 to get the maximum four credits for the year.

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Insufficient work credits for SSDI

Many claimants are surprised to find they do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. Workers who have not worked and paid enough employment taxes to qualify for SSDI cannot buy extra credits and they cannot borrow credits from a spouse. SSDI is based on your own work history. The only method to earn more work credits is to go back to work.

Claimants who have never worked also will not qualify for SSDI benefits. If you lack work credits you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The SSI program uses the same criteria to determine disability, but claimants do not have to work or pay taxes to qualify. The payments for SSI are generally much less than SSDI benefits, and workers will only qualify if they can prove they have very limited income and resources.

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Working while applying for SSDI benefits

Claimants will not be approved for SSDI benefits if they are working and performing what the SSA calls "substantial gainful activity." But what does this really mean? Substantial gainful activity can be divided into work which is substantial and work which is gainful.

In 2013, the SSA considers gainful work as the ability for a worker to make $1,040 (non-blind disabled applicants), and $1,740 for blind applicants. Workers making more than this amount are considered fully engaged in work and will be automatically denied SSDI benefits.

Consider, however, even if your earnings are not that high the SSA may still consider you able to work if they determine your work is substantial. For instance, if you are doing volunteer work or even criminal activity which is comparable to work that another person is getting paid to perform, this could be considered work.

How much work is substantial? What the SSA considers substantial seems to be a bit more nebulous. Estimates vary from 15 to 25 hours per week, but the bottom line is if you are working too much, even if your work is not generating a profit, you will be denied SSDI benefits.

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Working while receiving SSDI benefits

What if you want to return to work and you are receiving SSDI benefits? The Social Security administration allows SSDI claimants to attempt to return to work for a trial work period without jeopardizing their SSDI benefits.

The trial work program will allow the claimant to work and continue to receive their full SSDI benefits, but if they earn at least $750 (gross earnings) or they are self-employed and they work a minimum of 80 hours that month working in their own business, they will trigger a "trial work month."

The trial work period is limited to nine months within a rolling 60-month period. Claimants will still get a monthly SSDI disability check from the SSA during the trial work period, but they must report their work to the SSA and continue to suffer from a disabling condition.

The Extended Period of Eligibility

What happens after your have exhausted your trial work period? The SSA allows for an Extended Period of Eligibility. This period is a 36-month period during which you will continue to receive your full SSDI benefit every month if you remain disabled and do not perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2013, the SGA level is $1,040 for non-blind individuals and $1,740 for the blind.

If your income is above SGA for any month within the Extended Eligibility Period you will lose the entire SSDI payment for that month. If you earn over SGA for even one month after the 36-month period of re-entitlement, your SSDI benefits will stop.

If you lose SSDI you may be entitled to have your SSDI benefits reinstated without filing a new application. For instance, claimants who lost benefits because they attempted to return to work but reapplied within sixty months due to the same health condition may receive an expedited reintstatement.