Disability benefits offer monthly support to qualified individuals and often to their dependents as well. These benefits may not equal previous employment income, but they can certainly alleviate many financial concerns, like how you’ll make the rent, pay for utilities, or cover other bills.
Although many disabled workers meet the requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), your age and work history may prevent you from qualifying. If this is case, you’ll need to understand why you were denied and what you may be able to do about finding the support you need.
Social Security Taxes and SSDI Eligibility
SSDI is an “insurance” program and you pay your premiums for this insurance program by paying Social Security taxes. For most workers, these taxes are deducted automatically from each paycheck by their employers. If you’re self-employed though, you’re responsible for paying your own Social Security taxes. Either way, the taxes you pay accumulate over time as work credits and count toward eligibility for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
How Work Credits Accumulate
Work credits are based on earned income. The amount of earnings required for one work credit changes slightly each year due to inflation and other factors. In 2016, one work credit is earned for $1,260 of gross income on which you pay appropriate Social Security taxes, although the maximum number of credits you can accumulate in one year is four.
Work Credits Required for SSDI Eligibility
Younger workers need significantly fewer credits to qualify. In fact, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 31, you may be able to receive benefits with only six work credits and three years of recent employment.
Disabled individuals between 31 years of age and the age of full retirement – which is 62 to 67 – must generally have between 20 and 40 work credits available. Additionally, half of your work credits must be from the 10 years just prior to the onset of disability. If you’re between the ages of 31 and 42, you can qualify with 20 credits. For each year after age 42, you’ll need one additional work credit, up to age 62, at which point, 40 credits are necessary. In other words, at 43, you need 21 credits. At 44 you need 22, and so on, until reaching age 62 or older. Once you hit age 62, you’ll need 40 credits to get disability benefits.
SSI Benefit Basics
If you don’t have the work credits necessary for Social Security Disability Insurance, you may still be able to get disability benefits through SSI. This program has the same medical eligibility rules as SSDI but there are no work history or work credit requirements.
SSI does have a financial-need component to eligibility though, which means you must meet income and resource limits to be approved. The SSA only counts some financial sources however, so approval for benefits is more common than you may think.
Getting Help with Your Social Security Claim
In some cases, applicants can receive benefits even though they don’t have the exact number of work credits required based on their age. If you’re denied benefits, a disability advocate or attorney familiar with these kinds of claims can help you file an appeal and can represent you at the appeal hearing too. Although a lawyer or advocate can’t change the SSA’s eligibility rules, he or she can potentially increase your chances of approval.