It depends on your age when you become disabled. People under the age of 24 can claim Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with as little as a year and a half of work under their belt, but the threshold increases with age.
As with retirement benefits, qualification for SSDI is measured in Social Security credits. You get credits to pay Social Security taxes on your work income. In 2021, you get one credit for every $ 1,470 you earn in such “covered” employment (or self-employment), up to a maximum of four credits per year (for $ 5,880 or more of income). The amount of credit is automatically adjusted each year to reflect national salary trends.
For retirement benefits, the equation is simple: you get 40 credits, or 10 years of work and social contributions. Although the 10 years do not have to be consecutive, most workers reach this benchmark long before they are 62, the minimum age for receiving retirement benefits.
But disability – defined as a medical condition severe enough to prevent you from working for at least a year or likely to result in death – can strike at any age. In recognition of this, Social Security has developed a sliding scale for SSDI. To be “insured,” as social security calls people who qualify for benefits to work, you need to have two qualifications related to age and job.
The recent working test
First, you must have worked at least semi-regularly during the period preceding your disability. This requirement changes with age:
- If you become disabled during or before the calendar quarter in which you turn 24, you must have earned at least six credits (equivalent to a year and a half of work) in the previous three years to pass the recent work test .
- Between the ages of 24 and 31, you must have spent at least half of the time since you turned 21 on covered work. For example, if you became disabled during the quarter in which you turned 29, you must have accumulated 16 credits (worked four years) in the previous eight years.
- Beyond 31 years, the test is five years (20 credits) of work during the decade immediately preceding your disability.
The duration of the work test
In addition to meeting the recent work requirement, you must have accumulated a certain number of credits over your entire working life to be eligible for the SSDI.
If you are under 28, the duration test is six credits, or one and a half years of work. After that, it pretty much follows a formula: You must have at least as many credits as the number of years since you turned 22.
So if you become disabled at age 30, you must have worked for at least 2 years in total (eight credits). At 40, it’s 4.5 years (18 credits); at 50, 7 years old (28 credits); at age 60, 9.5 years (38 credits).
Once you have 40 credits, you take the duration test regardless of your age. But in most cases, you still need to have done some of this work in recent years to get SSDI.
Neither test applies to Supplementary Security Income (SSI), the other disability benefit administered by Social Security. SSI is a needs-based benefit that is not funded by Social Security taxes. You can qualify as a disabled person, regardless of your work history, if you meet medical criteria and have limited income and assets.