There are both medical and financial eligibility criteria you have to fulfill before getting disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. One of the non-medical eligibility requirements for SSDI is having enough "work credits." Each work credit is based on having earned and paid Social Security taxes on a certain amount of money.
If you do not have enough work credits, you are not considered "insured" for SSDI. If you do have enough work credits, you are then considered "insured."
How Many Work Credits Do You Have?
Work credits are currently awarded on a yearly basis and are based on the amount of money you earned and paid FICA taxes on. If you earn even a modest amount of money in a calendar year, you’ll likely receive the maximum four credits for that year.
Here are the specifics. For the year 2013, every $1,160 you make (subject to some limitations) earns you another work credit for Social Security purposes, up to the maximum of four per year. For example, if you made $4,640 or more in 2013, you'll receive the maximum four work credits available for the year.
The amount of money you must make to earn one credit has changed every year since 1978 (except in 2011). To see exactly how much you had to make in each year since 1978 to earn work credits for that year, see the Social Security Administration website at socialsecurity.gov/OACT/COLA/QC.html. (For work done before 1978, work credits were calculated quarterly (every three months), with one credit available per quarter, and a credit awarded for every quarter in which you earned at least $50.)
Not all income counts towards work credits. Only wages and self-employment income are counted. Income from pension payments or investments does not count toward work credits.
How Many Work Credits Do You Need for SSDI Eligibility?
Your age when you became disabled is taken into account when considering how many work credits are required. To determine if you meet the requirements, the SSA looks at how much you have worked and how recently you have worked. This is an all or nothing requirement. In other words, if you have enough work credits and are otherwise eligible, you can qualify for SSDI. There is no “partial” eligibility if you have some but not enough work credits. Also, there is no additional advantage if you have more than enough work credits.
The amount of work credits you need to be eligible for SSDI varies depending on your age. Younger people generally need fewer work credits to qualify for SSDI than older people need:
If you are under age 24, you can qualify if you have at least six credits, earned in the three years immediately prior to when your disability began.
If you are between 24 and 31 years old, you can qualify if you have at least half of the number of credits you possibly could have earned after the age of 21. For example, if you are 29 years old, you could have earned a total of 28 credits (4 credits per year times 8 years since you turned 21). Therefore, you would need at least 14 credits to qualify.
If you became disabled between the ages of 31 and age 42, then you need 20 credits.
If you are older than 42, you need between 20 and 40 credits, depending on the age at which you became disabled. Use the following chart:
|Age You Became Disabled||How Many Credits You Need|
|62 or Older||40|
In addition, if you are older than 31, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the ten years immediately preceding when you became disabled (unless you are blind).
Note that this chart is only valid for calculating your work credits if you were born after 1929.
Family Members Can Get Benefits Without Work Credits
Family members of employees who earned enough work credits to be insured by SSDI are eligible for SSDI disability benefits. For instance, a disabled child of someone who receives SSDI can receive benefits even if the child never worked. Spouses, ex-spouses, and minor children can also be eligible for "auxiliary benefits," even if they're not disabled. For more information, see our article on SSDI benefits for dependents.