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Age Requirements for Disability Benefits

In this article:
SSDI age requirement | SSI age requirement | Can I be too old for disability benefits?

SSDI and age

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has both medical and nonmedical requirements. To qualify for SSDI claimants must have worked and earned work credits to be insured, their condition must last for 12 continuous months, it must be severe, and they must not be able to perform substantial gainful activity.

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So is there an age requirement? Not specifically, but claimants who are too young will not qualify because they will lack sufficient work credits to be insured. So it is less about how old you are and more about whether or not you have sufficient work credits to receive SSDI when you become disabled.

For example, if you are 24 years old and you are severely and permanently injured in a car accident, you could receive SSDI if you have earned six work credits in the three year period ending when your disability started. How do you earn work credits? In 2013, you must earn $1,160 in covered earnings to get one credit and $4,640 in covered earnings to get the maximum four credits for the year.

SSI and Age

Supplemental Security Income is wage assistance for the aged (65 years or older), the blind or the disabled of any age who are unable to work. Claimants must have limited income and resources to qualify for SSI benefits.

Because SSI does not require claimants to work or earn work credits it is available to disabled claimants of all ages whose condition is expected to last for 12 continuous months. Children of all ages receive SSI benefits for a variety of health conditions including total deafness, low birth weight, and cerebral palsy.

How does age affect the disability decision?

It is more difficult for young workers to win disability benefits. Although the disability determination process is the same for both SSI and SSDI, claimants must be able to prove they cannot perform work. If a claimant has a condition listed on the SSA listing of impairments, which is a list of conditions and symptoms the SSA assumes are disabling, age will not be a factor.

If the claimant's condition is not on the list, the SSA will review the claimant's residual ability to work. The SSA assumes a younger worker, especially if they are educated, has a better chance of retraining for new work than an older worker.

For example, if you are a 25 year old truck driver and you have a college education, if you are no longer able to drive trucks due to your condition, the SSA will review your ability to retrain for sedentary work. It will be much more difficult for you to prove you cannot retrain for some type of job than a 60 year old worker who has driven trucks for 24 years and can no longer perform their job.

Can I be too old for disability benefits?

We've discussed young claimants and the barriers they might face to get SSDI and SSI benefits, but what about an older claimant? If you are less than your full retirement age, but older than 55 years of age, your chances of receiving benefits is greater than a younger worker.

But can you be too old? Yes, if you have reached your full retirement age you cannot qualify for SSDI benefits; you will simply get your SSA retirement. For SSI, however, there is no age limitation.