How long do I have to work to qualify for Disability?

The amount of years worked that is necessary to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age. Social Security quantifies your work history in terms of work credits. Typically, you will have needed to have worked 5 of the last 10 years to have enough work credits to quality for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). Usually, you need 20 work credits earned in the last 10 years.

Working and Earning Work Credits

There is a chart available to understand how many work credits and years of work are required based on your age. In order to earn work credits, you need to work and pay into Social Security. In 2020, you must earn $1,410 to earn one work credit.

Younger workers can qualify for disability benefits with fewer work credits. If you become disabled before age 24, you must have earned 6 credits in the three years prior to the onset of your disability. If you become disabled between age 24 and 31, you need credits for half the time between age 21 and the onset of your disability. For example, if you become disabled at age 29, you would need four years of prior work, or 16 credits.

You will also need to have worked recently to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. If you worked in your youth but took off 6 years to raise a family, you will no longer qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Most SSDI recipients need to have worked recently, usually any 5 of the past 10 years.

If you have worked intermittently, but have earned income within the past couple of years, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

Work Credits Chart for SSD

Qualifying When You Have Not Worked

If you haven't worked enough, there is still hope for your claim. You can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. These benefits are for people of all ages with a severe financial need. Rather than taking into consideration the of years worked and work credits, the SSA will look at your income and assets. If you are within the income limits, then you may will qualify for disability benefits.

Other Requirements for Disability

Once you establish if you have worked long enough for SSDI or if you are within the income limits for SSI, you will need to meet the medical requirements. These are the same for both SSI and SSDI.

To medically qualify, you will need to meet a Blue Book listing. The Blue Book is the guide used by the SSA to assess if someone is medically eligible for disability benefits. Within the Blue Book, you can find conditions that qualify for disability benefits and the requirements that need to be met for that specific condition. This includes things like specific test results, doctors notes, medications, treatment options, etc. Look over the Blue Book with your doctor to make sure you medically qualify.

If you do not medically qualify, but are still unable to work due to the condition you are experiencing, there is still hope. You can request a residual functional capacity (RFC) form be completed by a doctor. This form will go over the disabling condition you are experiencing, your symptoms, and how they impact your work ability.

The RFC will demonstrate that you are unable to work in the field you have been trained to work in, and that there is no other work you can do because the condition you are experiencing. It will explain how long you can sit, stand, how much you can lift, your ability to understand, remember and complete tasks, etc.

Days Worked To Qualify For Disability

How Long Do You Have to Work to get Social Security?

You also must have worked recently to qualify for SSDI benefits. If you worked when you were young and then stopped for 6 years to start and raise a family you won’t qualify for SSDI. Most SSDI recipients are usually required to have worked recently, typically any 5 of the last 10 years.

Credits are calculated based on your total wages or income from self-employment income earned each year. The amount of earnings needed for one credit isn’t the same every year. In 2021, you earn one work credit for every $1,470 in earnings. You need to earn $5,880 to gain the maximum of four credits allowed for each year.

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

In order to be eligible for SSDI benefits, you will need to be out of work for at least 12 months or longer due to your disability and you will need to provide the proof that it is your disability that is preventing you from working. However, you may apply for disability benefits as soon as you have to give up work because of your medical condition.

You will have to provide sufficient evidence that you won’t be able to work for at least 12 months to qualify for SSDI benefits or SSI to avoid denied benefits. This is called the durational requirement. If the SSA doesn't believe your disability will last at least 12 months, you will be sent a "durational denial" letter. If you are only going to be disabled and unable to work for less than 12 months then you won’t qualify for SSDI benefits.

In addition to the length of time you have been out of work in order to qualify for SSDI, your accrued work credits and age your disability needs to be listed in the SSA’s Blue Book. The SSA uses its Blue Book as a guide to assess if a person is medically eligible for disability benefits.

If your disability is listed you will need to provide evidence that proves the presence of it such as your doctor’s report, results of relevant medical test results and success of treatments used to relieve the symptoms of your disability.

Getting Help With Determining if You Worked Enough

Do you need help determining if you'll qualify for Social Security benefits? You should contact a Social Security attorney or disability advocate. He or she can evaluate your claim and help you start the application process. You can also learn more about your eligibility by filling out a free evaluation form today.

Additional Resources