How Long Can I Not Work and Still Qualify for SSDI?

Submitted by Bryan on

If you are disabled and unable to work, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

These benefits can be used to help cover the costs of medical bills and your everyday living expenses.

There are two main forms of disability benefits: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is based on financial need, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on your employment history and paid into through taxes on your income. You’ll need to consult the SSA’s Blue Book listing in order to determine what records and medical documentation are necessary in your application for SSD benefits. The Blue Book is a list of disabilities that qualify for SSD. 

How Long Do You Have to be Out of Work to Apply for Disability?

You have many hurdles to clear before getting approved for Social Security disability benefits. One of the clearest hurdles requires you to have missed work for 12 consecutive months.

However, you can apply for disability benefits and receive approval for financial assistance before the end of 12 months. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to file a claim based on the expectations of you missing at least 12 consecutive months of work.

For example, if you suffered a severe spinal cord injury, the SSA can refer to your doctor’s prognosis to predict whether you will miss the requisite amount of time to qualify for financial assistance.

The SSA uses the durational requirement to determine whether a claimant will miss 12 consecutive months of work. In addition to reviewing the prognosis presented by your physician, a team of medical examiners at the SSA conducts a thorough review of your case to determine whether you will be able to work over the next 12 months.

The medical examiners analyze your diagnostic tests, which should shine some light on the severity of your symptoms. If the diagnostic tests demonstrate you suffer from severe symptoms, the SSA might agree that you meet the durational requirement to receive financial assistance before the end of the 12-month waiting period.

The SSA might wait a few months to see if your symptoms have improved and if they have improved, the federal agency has the right to waive the durational requirement for disability benefits.

What Are Work Credits?

To be eligible to receive SSDI, you must have earned a certain amount of “work credits” over a certain amount of time. Work credits are based on the amount of time you work, and they are earned each year that you earn a wage and pay income taxes through the SSA.

Most people can earn a maximum amount of four work credits per year, but the exact amount you earn will depend on your earnings and employment status. In 2016, you must earn $1,260 per work credit.

To be eligible for SSDI, you must have earned a total of 20 work credits within the past 15 years. This is for if you are age 31 or older. There are some exceptions to this requirement for younger people.

Applicant Age and Work Credit Requirements

If you are younger than 31, it may be unreasonable to expect that you earned 20 work credits over the past 15 years, so there are different rules in place.

For example, if you are under 24 years old, you may be eligible to receive SSDI benefits if you earned 6 work credits in the 3 years before your disability began.

On the other hand, if you are between 24 and 30, you must have worked for half of the time between the age of 21 and the onset of your disability to be eligible for benefits.

How Long Out of Work SSDI still good

Work Credit Requirements

The exact breakdown for work credit requirements is:

  • 6 credits in 1.5 years if under 24 when disabled
  • 8-18 credits in 2-4.5 years if 24-30 when disabled
  • 20 credits in 5 years if 31-42 when disabled
  • 22 credits in 5.5 years if 44 when disabled
  • 24 credits in 6 years if 46 when disabled
  • 26 credits in 6.6 years if 48 when disabled
  • 28 credits in 7 years if 50 when disabled
  • 30 credits in 7.5 years if 52 when disabled
  • 32 credits in 8 years if 54 when disabled
  • 34 credits in 8.5 years if 56 when disabled
  • 36 credits in 9 years if 58 when disabled
  • 38 credits in 9.5 years if 60 when disabled
  • 40 credits in 10 years if 62 or over when disabled

If you are disabled and you do not meet the work credit requirements for your age, there are still options available to you. SSI benefits, which are based on your financial need, may be an option if you do not have a sufficient work history.

Hire a Lawyer

If you are unsure if you are eligible for SSDI benefits, consider hiring a lawyer or disability advocate to help you throughout the process.

A lawyer can help you with your initial application, gathering medical evidence, and ensuring that you are able to get the benefits you need. If you are denied disability, an attorney can help you file an appeal.

Additional Resources

Blog comments

Joanie (not verified)

My BF and I just had a

My BF and I just had a wedding ceremony, now trying to decide if it is financially advisable to file the marriage license. He gets SSDI and has medicare and Blue Cross (on peritoneal dialysis and needs dual insurance). I earn a good wage. I understand from previous answers that my income will not affect his SSDI or medicare. He is allowed to make $15,000/yr and still get SSDI so he works but once we file the marriage license will my income be considered in his calculation of the $15k so that he would have to quit his job to keep his SSDI? Also his 15yr old son gets a portion of his SSDI, would my income then cause more to come out of his check for child support?

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 06:50 Permalink

In reply to by Joanie (not verified)

Hi Joanie,

Hi Joanie,
Your income will not affect his SSDI earnings limit! That is only what he earns.

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 13:36 Permalink
GBT (not verified)

I have had 2 hip surgeries

I have had 2 hip surgeries that have failed over the last 10 years. I have been doing my best to work but, several doctors have mentioned that I should be out on disability even though I have a desk job. They tell me that sitting at a desk all day is doing me more harm than good. I am almost 61yo and I am finally realizing that I am getting worse at the time goes on. Financially, I am unable to let my income go due to financial obligations. Must I quit work in order to wait for the process/approval for getting SSDI. I am hearing it takes at least a year or more and you get denied at your first request. I don't know what to do. I am missing time due to this problem as well.

Tue, 06/28/2016 - 14:13 Permalink

In reply to by GBT (not verified)

Hi there,

Hi there,
You may be able to take retirement early at 62. Generally the process for a disability claim takes around 17 months, so this may be the quickest option for you. However, you do not need to quit working while applying for disability benefits.

Tue, 06/28/2016 - 16:58 Permalink
David (not verified)

My wife has not worked in 7

My wife has not worked in 7 years is she still able to collect ssdi ? She worked at the same place for 17years prior.she is 53 years old .

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 21:39 Permalink

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