What are the requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance?

The qualifications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are more rigorous than those for SSI. To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Worked in a job covered by Social Security
  • Worked in that job for 5 of the past 10 years*
  • Have a medical condition that prevents you from working and renders you disabled (according to SSA’s definition of “disabled”)

*The most common factor that disqualifies SSDI applicants is not having worked five of the last ten years. However, even if you do not meet the Social Security’s requirements for SSDI benefits, you may still be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Keep in mind that "5 of the past 10 years" is just a rule of thumb, and you may not need to have worked as long to qualify if you are younger.

For example, a younger adult who becomes paralyzed will not be expected to work as long as a 60-year-old adult. Depending on your age and how many work credits you've earned, you may only need to have 1.5 years of work under your belt to qualify for SSDI.

Another important requirement is working at a job that pays Social Security taxes. SSDI is funded by tax payers, so if you haven't contributed to the system, you will not qualify for SSDI benefits.

Criteria for Social Security Disability Insurance

You may be eligible for social security disability insurance (SSDI) if you meet the criteria set by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The main criteria for SSDI are as follows:

  • You have been working in a job where you paid social security taxes for long enough to have accumulated at least 20 work credits in the last 10 years. This can be accumulated if you have worked for at least 5 years in the last 10 years. The maximum work credits earned in any work year are 4, 1 for each 3 months of continuous work.
  • You are unlikely to be able to earn a minimum of $1,310 a month for the next 12 months.
  • You have a medical condition that matches the criteria established by the SSA for a particular type of disability.

If you cannot match the first criterion above, i.e. don’t have enough work credits because you haven’t paid enough in payroll taxes that include social security payments then you may still be able to qualify for social security benefit through the supplemental security income (SSI) pathway.

This is for those people who haven’t worked very much and have few assets and a low income. The requirement to show evidence of a disability that is recognized by the SSA still applies.

The requirement that you have a recognized disability that is severe enough to prevent you from being able to be employed is the most difficult SSDI requirement.

The details of your medical condition must match one of the SSA’s Blue Book listings. This isn’t easy and around half of all SSDI applications are routinely rejected, usually because there is insufficient evidence that the symptoms of the disability are severe enough to justify granting a benefit.

It is important to study the Blue Book carefully to see whether your symptoms match the description and supply enough medical documentation as evidence that there is a match.

If a Blue Book match cannot be found then there is another way to achieve the qualifications for social security and that is to have a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) completed by your doctor.

What the SSA is looking for is clear evidence that your condition means you cannot work and support yourself without assistance. The RFC tests reveal what you can and cannot do physically and in some cases mentally depending on the nature of your disability.

What You Need In Order to Qualify for a Social Security Benefits?

The SSA has regional offices all over the U.S., so there will be an office somewhere near you. To make it easier for you to apply for a benefit, you have three different ways to apply, which are online, by phone and in person at the nearest social security office.

Whichever method you use, you will need to spend some time preparing the documentation you need to support your claim. The main documents you will need to accompany your application include:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful residence in the U.S.
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for the last 12 months. •    Evidence of any other benefits received such as workers’ compensation payments.
  • Military discharge papers if you were discharged before1968.
  • Medical evidence of your condition such as doctor’s recent diagnosis, medical history and records, results of recent tests, scans and x-rays relevant to the disability.

The SSA may ask for further documentation if they need clarification of your eligibility for SSDI or your medical status. It pays to provide as much documentation requested as possible to reduce delays or rejections of claims through lack of information.

On the disability application you will be asked a number of questions and will be asked to provide the answers to these as a sample (the SSA’s own website has a complete list of questions).

  • Your name; name at birth, if different; •    Social security number; if you have used another number in the past;
  • Date and place of birth;    
  • Whether you have applied or obtained a social security benefit before, such as SSI, or Medicare or have received a benefit through an application made by someone else;
  • Whether you have obtained social security credits recognized by the SSA through working in another country;
  • Details of your marital status; your spouse’s name, age and social security number, names of other previous spouses and their age and social security numbers;
  • Names and ages of dependent children and parents;
  • Employment details including past employers and how long you worked at each job;
  • The date when you became unable to work and how long you expect to not be able to work.
  • Worked in that job for 5 of the past 10 years*
  • Have a medical condition that prevents you from working and renders you disabled (according to SSA’s definition of “disabled”)

Would you like to learn more about how to qualify for SSDI? Consider contacting a Social Security disability advocate or attorney today. You can do this by filling out a free evaluation form to get the process started.