In order to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), 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 or by paying self-employment tax if you're not an employee).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines whether you have worked enough to qualify for SSDI by converting your earnings into work credits. The dollar amount it takes to earn one work credit is calculated annually. In the year 2021, you must earn $1,470 to get one Social Security work credit, or $5,880 to get the maximum four credits for the year. It doesn't matter in which quarters you do the work.
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.
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."
If you become disabled when 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 become disabled when you are between 24 and 31, you must have worked at least half the time since turning 21. For example, if you become disabled at age 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 become disabled when you are 27, you must have worked at least three years out of the last six years (or have earned 12 credits in the last six years).
If you become disabled when 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.
You must have worked the following number of years (or earned the following number of credits) to qualify for SSDI under the duration of work test.
Became Disabled At Age
Number of Credits You Need
Number of Years of Work
|21 through 27||6||1.5|
|62 or older||40||10|
Those who haven't earned enough to qualify for SSDI 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 by having very low income.
Family members of workers who are eligible for SSDI are eligible for dependents benefits through the SSDI program. For instance, a medically disabled adult child of someone who receives SSDI 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 officially called auxiliary benefits; see our article on family SSDI benefits for more information.