To be eligible for benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance—known as S-S-D-I—you must, of course, meet Social Security’s definition of disability. But in addition you must have worked long enough and recently enough. The Social Security Administration requires that you have enough work credits to qualify. Like many things associated with the federal government sorting out what work credits are how many you need gets complicated. Let me try to sort this out for you. 

Work credits are based on your total yearly wages or, if you are self-employed, what your annual income is. The wage or income amount necessary to earn a work credit changes from year-to-year. In 2019 you can earn one credit for each one thousand three hundred and sixty dollars in earnings. Because the maximum credits you can earn in a year is 4, once you have earned five thousand four hundred and forty-four dollars you have maxed out your credits for the year.  Even if you earn more than that you will not get any extra work credits and the amount of your disability benefits will not increase.

How many work credits does it take to for you to qualify for disability benefits? Well, that depends on your age when you become disabled.

If you are under 24 years old you may qualify if you have earned 6 work credits within a 3 year period prior to your disability date.

If you are between 24 and 31 you can meet the requirements if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. I know that was a bit confusing, but I think an example will help clear things up. Let’s say you become disabled at 27 years old which means that 6 years have passed since your 21st birthday. Half of 6 is 3 which multiplied by the 4 credits per year requirement means you would need a minimum of 12 work credits to be eligible for S-S-D-I benefits.

After your 31st birthday, it gets more complicated and if I tried to detail all of the work credit requirements by age this would be a very lengthy video. If you are older than 31 and want to know how many work credits you will need, I suggest that you visit the Social Security website at s-s-a dot gov, do a search for work credits and you will find a table of ages and work credit requirements. In general, however, if you are between 31 and 42, you need 20 work credits and then the work credit requirement increases by one for each year of age up to age 62 when the work credit requirement maxes out at 40, 20 of which must have been earned in the 10 years before you became disabled. 

As you can see navigating the complex disability benefit rules set by Social Security can be difficult and sometimes frustrating. Every day we deal with Social Security and their thousands of pages of regulations, so we can help. If you are disabled and cannot work, call us at Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your situation.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska