In order to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI, or SSD), you must have insured status for Social Security. This means you must have worked enough during the years before filing to have contributed a specific amount to the Social Security system (through FICA taxes deducted from your paychecks).
Your Work History and Work Credits
The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines if you have worked enough to qualify for SSD by converting your earnings into work credits. The dollar amount it takes to earn one work credit is calculated annually. In the year 2013, you must earn $1,160 to get one Social Security work credit, or $4,640 to get the maximum four credits for the year. It doesn't matter in which quarter you did the work. Previously (before 1978), a credit was equal to having worked for one quarter in which you earned at least $50.
How much do you have to pay into Social Security to get disability benefits? As you can see, you need only earn a minimal amount of money to get credit for a year of paying into Social Security, so the question is really about how many years do you have to work to be eligible for disability.
How Many Work Credits You Need for SSDI Eligibility
The older you are, the more work credits you need to qualify for benefits. There are two tests you must pass that involve work credits: the "recent work test" and the "duration of work test."
Recent Work Test
If you are 31 or older, you must have worked at least 5 of the last 10 years to pass the recent work test. Put another way, you will need to have earned 20 credits (one quarter of work equals one credit) in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
If you are between 24 and 31, you must have worked at least half the time since turning 21. For example, if you are 29, you must have worked at least four years out of the last eight years (or have earned 16 credits in the last eight years).
If you are under 24, you must have worked at least one and a half years in the three-year period before disability (or have earned 6 credits in the last three years).
There is an exception to these rules for certain blind applicants.
Duration of Work Test
You must have worked the following number of years (or earned the following number of credits) to qualify for SSDI.
Became Disabled At Age
Number of Credits You Need
Number of Years of Work
|21 through 24||6||1.5|
|24 through 31||6 to 18||1.5 to 4.5|
|31 through 42||20||5|
|62 or older||40||10|
Disability Benefits for Those with Too Few Work Credits
Those who haven’t earned enough to qualify for SSD may still be eligible for disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI has no work requirement, but applicants must be able to demonstrate financial need.
Eligibility for Family Members
Family members of workers who are eligible for SSDI are eligible for SSDI. For instance, a medically disabled adult child of someone who receives SSD can receive benefits even if the adult child has never worked. Spouses, ex-spouses, and minor children can also be eligible for benefits. These family benefits are called auxiliary benefits; see our article on family SSDI benefits for more information.