How Do I Qualify For SSDI?

SSDI is a merit-based program available for people who pass both the medical requirements as well as the non-medical requirements of the program. If you would like to know how to qualify for SSDI, we've outlined both requirements and what it takes to be considered.

The non-medical Requirements

The non-medical criteria basically requires that you have paid enough Social Security taxes (or FICA taxes) throughout your work history. In making this assessment, the Social Security Administration converts your earnings into a term called "work credits". In 2013, $1,160 of earnings will get one work credit. The maximum number of work credits that can be earned in a year is four. So, how many work credits are needed? There are two tests; you must be both fully insured and you must be currently insured:

Fully insured

You must have acquired at least one work credit for each calendar year after you became age 21.

The following table does the math for you when determining the quarters of coverage needed to be fully insured.

Currently insured

To determine if you are currently insured, SSA has different rules for people who are under the age of 31 or are blind.

If you became disabled after age 31, you must have worked at least 5 out of the past 10 years before you became disabled (earning at least 20 work credits).

For those that became disabled before age 31, there are two variations.

  • 24 through 31: you must have worked at least half the available work credits since you became 21. So, for example, if you are 27, you must have worked at least 3 years out of the previous six (27-21=6).
  • 21 through 24: you must have earned 6 credits in the past three-year period.

As a side note, if you are statutorily blind (as defined in § 404.1581) and fully insured, there is no additional requirement to be currently insured.

Other ways to financially qualify for benefits

Those who haven’t earned enough work credits to qualify for SSD may still be able to receive disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Also, there are some special ways that a family members can receive benefits if the family has never worked. These types of benefits are often referred to as auxiliary benefits, "disabled adult child", widow's and spousal (or ex-spousal) benefits. View a video on the difference between SSI and SSDI.

The Medical Requirements

To be considered disabled in the Social Security Disability Context, you must also be able to prove that you have medical conditions that are so severe that they would prevent you from engaging in work activities that amount to what SSA calls Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Substantial Gainful Activity is any activity that generates over a set amount of monthly income ($1,040 in 2013). There are a several exceptions that allow people to be eligible for social security benefits if you are working.

If you have questions about whether or not you qualify based upon both the Medical and Non-Medical Requirements, or questions about some of the exceptions to these rules, speak with an attorney who can help you understand these qualifications and how they apply to you.

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