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How much Social Security-covered work credits do I need to get Social Security Disability Insurance benefits?

By   /  March 3, 2016  /  126 Comments

See how many work credits you must have to collect Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and learn how to find out if you have enough credits.

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Watch the Video: “How much Social Security-covered work do I need to get Social Security Disability Insurance benefits?”

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 $1,260.00 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.

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126 Comments

  1. John D Pangburn says:

    I am currently awaiting a decision on my SSDI benefits.. My girlfriend is on SSI. Will my benefits affect hers if I move in with her even though we aren’t contemplating marriage?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear John,

      Your income does not affect your girlfriend’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) even if you live together. However, if you pay more than your share of shelter expenses and/or of food if you share food, she would be getting income from you and that would cause her SSI to be reduced.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  2. T.R.V says:

    My wife was tentatively diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001 at age 31. Through two years of tests, they could not prove it was MS, but they ruled everything else out so they decided it had to be MS. She immediately decided she couldn’t work anymore so she quit and we tried to get SSDI for her, but were denied. About six years later, the diagnosis was withdrawn because she had shown no signs of progression and her symptoms were inconsistent. Later that year, she had a severe psychotic break and the real disease became obvious.

    She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, but refused to accept that diagnosis. She has been hospitalized three times, one of which was after an attempted suicide. Now after eight years of dealing with escalating abuse, I have decided to divorce her. She is non-compliant with all medication or treatment of any kind. She hasn’t worked a day in 14½ years, so I know she doesn’t qualify for SSDI. If I had to guess, I’d say she has less than 20 quarters worked in her entire adult life all before she was incorrectly diagnosed with MS.

    Is there anything for her to supplement her finances if we divorce besides what she gets from me after I get raked over the coals? I’m hoping to reduce my spousal support payments based on her ability to have additional income.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear T.V.R.,

      Depending on the amount of spousal support your wife is receiving, she may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The maximum $733 federal payment would be reduced by all but $20 of the spousal support, so if the spousal support is $753 or more per month, she will not be eligible for SSI unless her state offers a higher SSI state supplement.

      Later when you retire and receive Social Security and when she is at least age sixty-two, she will be eligible for divorced spouse’s benefits because you were married ten years. (Her spousal benefits will not reduce your benefits.)

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  3. Robin R Minor says:

    Hello Kate. I am so confused. I have had high blood pressure for over 20 years. But it has got worse in the last 4 years. I’ve had a stroke and slight heart condition attack. My blood pressure is over 200 everyday. Even with medications. I’m 50 years old, I have headaches, dizzy spells and fainting spells. My vision stays blurry. I have chest pains everyday also. Some days not bad. I do believe I have enough creditts also. But I don’t know which one to apply for. I’ve been under 2 specialist care and hospitalized more than once. And for days at a time. I’ve been out of work now since February. But I applied in December. Which is best for me? SSID OR SSI?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Robin,

      Apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) and ask to be financially screened for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If your income and assets are within the SSI limits an application will be taken for both benefits.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  4. J.K. says:

    Hello Kay, I really need some clarification. I’m confused and discouraged right now. I am a 29 year old male who has been permanently disabled from a severe spinal cord injury since the age of 15. I am wheelchair bound and unable to walk. I am now engaged and about to marry within the next two years. I do not want my fiance/future wife to be the primary breadwinner. I DO receive SSI but that can be compromised once we marry if her income is taken into account. My benefits will likely be lessened and add more strain to our situation. And we want children soon after marrying. With SSI I can’t get benefits for our kids, but with SSDI this is possible.

    I want to contribute and build a life with the love of my life. Taking care of me and my issues is already a challenge. Financially straining her or taking away from her earnings because we want to marry is not acceptable. I was not able to work earlier in my life because I was put in a nursing home very soon after being hurt. I remained there with no prospect for a better life up until 2 1/2years ago.

    Since I have no work credits and I am receiving SSI is it possible for me to start working now with a part-time job (I have a prospect for a great part time, work from home deal) to become eligible for not only SSDI but eventually Medicare and retirement?

    I was talking it over with my fiance and she said from what she was reading it seems that I needed to have worked within three years of my injury to be eligible for these things. However I was so young the summer I got hurt, I turned 15. So, which would be the better option? Should I completely stop accepting disability and just work a part-time job for a few years to become eligible for these benefits or should I apply for the Ticket to Work Program? My concern about the ticket to work program is that since I am still eligible to receive SSI through that program I will not be able to put into retirement or qualify for Medicare one day, (which I really want to be able to do) or even qualify for SSDI. See we want to have children and I figure if I work hard enough should I need it one day I’ll be able to claim SSDI.

    I’m also in college right now and working on a degree. I hope to have a career once I’m done but I will not be finished for another 3 years or so because I’m pursuing my Master’s. So in the meantime I figured I need to see what I can to do to become eligible for SSDI if at all possible given my unique circumstances. It’s not that I didnt want to work it’s just that I never had the chance until recently. Side note, I also wonder if I voluntarily quit SSI after securing a job, which truthfully will only pay about as much as my SSI but its independent…would I forfeit eligibility for Medicaid and supplemental foodstamps. Please advise because the information on the web sites don’t really address my particular situation thank you.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear J.K.,

      You can work, pay Social Security taxes, and earn Social Security quarters of coverage (work credits) while receiving SSI if your earnings are not too high for SSI eligibility. Medicaid will continue if you are eligible for at least $1 a month SSI. Depending on your earnings, shelter costs, and medical expenses, you might be able to get Medicaid even if your SSI stops because your earnings are too high.

      You have to be both fully insured and currently insured for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. Fully insured means having one quarter of coverage for every year between age twenty-one “when disability begins.” Because you became disabled before were twenty-one, the minimum number of six quarters applies. To be currently insured, you need six quarters of coverage of a disability date starting before you are age twenty-one. You can claim that original date as long as you do not perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) while you are earning your quarters of coverage. Currently, earnings below $1,130 gross per month are not usually considered SGA. The quickest you can earn the six quarters is sometime next year. Currently $1,260 gross earns one quarter. To earn the maximum four quarters in 2016, you would need to gross $5,040 this year or $720 average per month, which would result in an SSI reduction of about $317 a month unless you apply for and have a PASS approved. (See below about a PASS).

      The amount of your SSD benefit, once you are insured, is based on your total earnings, so initially your benefit might be quite low and low enough that it would not provide dependent benefits. It might even allow continuing reduced SSI, although Social Security plus part-time earnings would likely result in no SSI.

      If you become entitled to SSD based on part-time earnings and continue to earn less than $1,130 a month, you could continue to gradually increase your Social Security benefit while receiving SSD. You would become eligible for Medicare after twenty-four months of SSD benefits.

      You can request and develop a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) with the help of the Social Security Administration. If the PASS is approved, you can have your work earnings excluded if you need them to pay for school costs or for other expenses that would move you toward financial independence such as a specially equipped van so that you can later drive to work. To have a PASS, you need a specific occupational goal that your education is leading to.

      Another possible scenario is that you will complete your degree, start working full-time and earn too much to be considered disabled, and continue working until retirement age or, if health problems worsened, apply for SSD later in life.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • My name is Rebecca I worked for government for 17 years and I put ss in for work before that I have 38,000 in social security from 20 years ago why can’t I get my money that I put into

        • Kay Derochie says:

          Dear Rebecca,

          The Social Security taxes you paid are not refundable. You may have worked enough to receive Social Security Retirement benefits when you reach retirement age even though you do not have recent credits needed for disability benefits.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

  5. JOHN KLEPSIC says:

    Dear Kay I have a question I have been disabled since 1996 my kid gets 608 off my benefits she is now 18 and the money she gets I count on for the bills in the household does that go back to my or do I loose that amount and can I request a raise or what should I do.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear John,

      Dependent benefits are paid extra in addition to your own benefit to cover the cost of supporting the child. Once your child is not longer a minor and a dependent, the dependent benefits stop. Your benefits will not increase.The idea behind this is that the adult child can support himself or herself at that point. Note that if the child is under nineteen and still in high school, the child is considered to still be dependent. If that is the case, you can submit form SSA-1372-BK completed by the school for continuation of benefits until the earlier of age nineteen or graduation.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  6. Leslie GARNER says:

    I’m 42 years old and I have my 40 credits in so can I retired at age 42 on the credits I have?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Leslie,

      You can apply for reduced retirement benefits at age sixty-two. The reduction is permanent. To receive full retirement benefits, you have to wait until age sixty-seven. Your forty credits insure you, but the amount of your retirement benefits is based on your thirty-five years of highest earnings. If you are disabled, you can apply for benefits now and the benefit will be comparable to the unreduced retirement you would get with the same work history.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

    • Luis J Tavarez says:

      How can I find out that info

      • Kay Derochie says:

        Dear Luis,

        I can’t find what you are referring to. If you let me know what information you are looking for, I will see if I can assist.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

  7. Christina says:

    Hey
    My son has cerebral palsy and has been in ssi and he had medicaid. His died and he started getting death benefits but they dropped his medicaid. He will be 19 in October and he is still in high school. Can he get back on medicaid and his ssi for his disabilities after the death benefits stop? Also is there anyway we can go through a different ss office because they really messed us up and told me I had to repay monies. When I got a lawyer to look into it they could even tell her why they was withholding money or how much they had withheld or how much more they thought he still needed to pay.. thanks fir your help. Alabama is where we live.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Christina,

      You can go to any office you want. The SSI program requires that your son receive all other benefits possible so that SSI is the payer of last resort. Accordingly, if he applies for SSI, he will be required to apply for Social Security Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) that are paid to surviving children who became disabled before age twenty-two. This will likely mean that he will continue to be ineligible for SSI and possibly Medicaid. I suggest that he apply for CDB benefits now because it takes two to five months to get a decision. Put on the application that he received SSI until he got survivor SS benefits.

      After two years of CDB benefits, your son will receive Medicare insurance. In the meantime, if his Medicaid stopped less than sixty days ago, he can apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and may qualify for a government subsidy to help with the premiums. If it has been more than sixty days, he can apply during the next open enrollment period in November and December. More information is available at http://www.healthcare.gov.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

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