How to Earn Work Credits for Disability Insurance
As a disabled worker, to receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, which are usually called just Social Security Disability benefits, you must be disabled as defined by Social Security law and you must be insured for disability benefits under the Social Security system on the date that your disability began.
Workers become insured by earning work credits, sometimes called quarters of coverage, in jobs that are subject to Social Security payroll taxes or Social Security self-employment tax. The earnings from these jobs are called Social Security wages. A quarter of coverage, or work credit, is obtained by working and earning a certain dollar amount. As the cost of living has increased, the amount of earnings required for a one work credit has also increased. For example, in 1998, the amount was $700.00 and in 2010 it was $1,120.00. In 2016 the amount increased to $1,220.00 per quarter. You can earn up to four credits per year, and it does not matter when during the calendar year you earn the dollar amount needed for the credits. Your four credits can be earned over an entire year, or they can be attained all in a single calendar quarter, or even in a single month. For more information about increases in the cost of living and Social Security, visit our article “Will I Get Cost-of-living Increases in My Disability Benefit Check?”
Age at Disability Determines the Number of Credits You Need
The number of work credits required to be insured depends on your age when you become disabled. If you are age twenty-three or younger when you become disabled, you need to have earned six credits in the three-year period immediately prior to the onset of your disability.
If you become disabled between ages twenty-four and thirty-one, Social Security looks at how many credits you earned between age twenty-one and the date your disability began. You are insured if you have earned one credit for every two calendar quarters in that period. In other words, you must have earned half of the total possible credits. Let’s look at an example. Suppose you became disabled exactly four years after your twenty-first birthday, at age twenty-five. Then there would be sixteen calendar quarters in the period that Social Security reviews and you would need to have eight work credits.
On the other hand, if you are age thirty-two or older when you become disabled, you have to be both fully insured and currently insured on the date that your disability began. All your work that was subject to Social Security tax counts toward your being fully insured. The number of credits required to be fully insured ranges from twenty to forty, depending on your age when you become disabled. For example, disability at age forty-four requires twenty-two credits, but; disability at age fifty-six requires thirty-four credits. For you to meet the second requirement of being currently insured, twenty of your work credits have to have been earned in the ten years immediately before you became disabled.
Disability Benefits on Another Worker’s Earnings Record
To claim Disabled Adult Child benefits or Disabled Widows benefits, the worker on whose earnings record you are claiming benefits must be insured and either receiving benefits or deceased. For more information about Social Security survivor benefits and dependent benefits, see our article “Who Are the Four Groups of People Who Can Apply for Disability and Who May Meet the Requirements for Eligibility for Social Security Disability?”
How to Find Out If You Are Insured
If you are disabled, the best way to find out you if you are insured for disability benefits is to file a disability claim with the Social Security Administration to get a formal decision. But, if you would like a preview, you can review the earnings statement that the Social Security Administration has mailed out in past years. The statement tells whether you were insured for disability benefits at the time the notice was sent. However, because the statement does not include your current year’s and sometimes your prior year’s work, you might be insured, even if the statement says that you are not. Additionally, though not common, some of your other work may be missing from the statement. It’s always a good idea to compare your W-2s and self-employment tax returns with the itemization of earnings on the statement to be sure you are getting credit for all your work under the Social Security Disability Insurance program. If you find a discrepancy, contact the Social Security Administration with any proof you have of the missing earnings.