Work credits are credits that you earn throughout your work history. Each quarter that you earn wages and pay FICA taxes into the Social Security system, you receive work credits. These credits are required in order to receive Social Security Disability benefits, Social Security Retirement and Medicare benefits.
Workers can receive a maximum of four work credits each year. The exact amount of work credits you earn each year will depend on your employment activity and the amount of your earnings. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you will generally need to have earned a total of 20 work credits, although there are exceptions to this rule.
For Social Security Disability applicants who are over 31 years of age, a total of 20 work credits earned within the past 15 years is generally needed. If you are younger, you may be able to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits with fewer work credits. For example, disability applicants who are under 24 years of age may be able to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if they have earned a total of six work credits in the three years prior to the onset of the disability.
It is important to note that work credits only apply to SSDI benefits. If you do not have enough work credits but suffer from a long-term or permanent disability, you may be able to qualify for SSI benefits even if you have not earned any work credits in the past. SSI is a needs-based program, however, and you will need to meet the SSA's household income and asset restrictions before being approved for SSI payments.
The Social Security Disability SSDI program, which does require work credits, is not a needs-based program. No matter how much your household income is, you can qualify for Social Security Disability SSDI benefits if you meet the SSA's disability criteria and have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits from the Social Security Administration.