To be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must have enough work credits to be insured under Social Security—meaning you've worked enough to have contributed a specific amount to the Social Security system. Your contributions are made through FICA taxes deducted from your paychecks or by paying self-employment tax (SECA) if you work for yourself.
How do you know if you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits? This article will discuss what work credits are, what it takes to earn them, and how to calculate how many work credits you have.
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. And you can earn up to four work credits each year.
In 2023, you must earn $1,640 to get one Social Security work credit. So you need to earn $6,560 to get the maximum four credits for the year. It doesn't matter in which quarters you do the work or earn the money—meaning that if you earn $6,560 in the first quarter, you'll have earned your four work credits for the year.
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 you have to work and pay into Social Security to be eligible for disability benefits.
The older you are, the more work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits. There are two tests you must pass to fulfill the SSDI work requirements: the "recent work test" and the "duration of work test." Both involve the work credits you've earned.
To pass the recent work test, you must have worked and earned SSDI work credits. And a certain amount of your work credits must have been earned in recent years. The exact requirement you must meet is based on how old you are when you become disabled.
If you're 31 or older when you become disabled: You must have worked at least 5 of the last 10 years to pass the recent work test for SSDI. Put another way, you'll need to have earned at least 20 SSDI work credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
If you're between 24 and 31 when you become disabled: You must have worked at least half the time since you turned 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 at least 16 work credits in the last eight years) to be eligible for SSDI.
Likewise, if you become disabled when you're 27, you'll need to have worked at least three years out of the last six years (or have earned at least 12 work credits in the last six years).
If you're younger than 24 when you become disabled: You must have worked at least one and a half years in the three-year period before disability (or have earned at least 6 credits in the last three years).
There's an exception to these rules for certain blind applicants for disability. But generally, the younger you are, the fewer work credits you need to be eligible to get SSDI.
You must have worked a certain number of years (or earned a certain number of work credits), based on your age, to pass the SSDI duration of work test. The following chart breaks this SSDI work requirement down by age.
|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|
The amount needed to earn one work credit changes each year. To calculate how many work credits you have, you'll need to look back at your earnings record.
Starting in 1978, Social Security began awarding SSDI coverage based on a worker's annual earnings instead of quarterly earnings. This is still the system used today. And since this system is based on your annual earnings, it no longer matters in which quarters you work and earn the required amount.
For example, in 2023, you have to earn at least $6,560 in a year to get all four work credits ($1,640 per work credit). And it doesn't matter if it took you one quarter, two quarters, or all four quarters to earn that $6,560.
This work credit chart at SSA.gov shows the income required to earn one work credit each year. For example, you had to earn $900 for one work credit in 2004. So, if you earned $1,800 that year, you would have earned two work credits. And if you made $3,600 or more that year, you'd have earned the maximum of four SSDI work credits.
If you haven't earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits, you might still be eligible for disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI has no work requirement, but to qualify, you must be able to demonstrate financial need by having a very low income and few assets. (Learn how to get SSI benefits for a disabled child.)
If you're eligible for SSDI benefits, your family members can usually get dependents benefits through the SSDI program (called "auxiliary benefits"). Your family's Social Security benefits are based on your work record, so it doesn't matter how much or how little your family members have worked.
For instance, if you're receiving SSDI, your disabled adult child (over 18) can get dependent benefits—even if the adult child has never worked. Spouses, ex-spouses, and minor children can also be eligible for benefits.
Learn more about getting SSDI benefits for your family.
Updated January 11, 2023