Social Security has two disability programs to help individuals who are unable to work because of a disabling condition (or conditions).
Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is based upon work credits that are earned through work activity. Each year, an individual can earn up to four work credits toward being insured for Social Security disability. The amount of work credits an individual needs to be insured depends upon their age. The minimum amount of work credits needed for insured status is six and the maximum amount of credits needed to be fully insured (at age 62) is forty. In essence, fully insured status requires that an individual earns an average of one work credit per year from the year of their twenty-first birthday to the year prior to the year an individual turns sixty-two, or the year an individual becomes disabled. For the exact credits needed per age, see our article on required work credits for SSDI.
What if an individual does not have enough work credits to be insured for Social Security disability benefits? Fortunately, Social Security administers another disability program that is based upon need rather than insured status. Individuals who are not insured for Social Security disability benefits may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits if they are able to meet the financial limits of the program.
SSI is like many other programs in that it has income and resource limits. Income might be wages, pension, disability benefits (short or long term), workers' compensation, rental income, interest, etc., and a resource might be land (other than where an individual lives), inheritance, trust fund, bank account, 401K, stocks, bonds, etc.
If an individual's income or resources do not exceed the SSI program limits, the individual may be eligible for disability benefits through the SSI disability program even though they do not have enough work credits for Social Security disability.