According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a wage earner is an individual who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or for self-employment income. Sometimes the SSA refers to wage earners as "number holders" or "workers".
Wage earners pay Social Security taxes on the wages that they earn. Each quarter in which a wage earner pays Social Security taxes, will earn them something referred to as “work credits”. A certain amount of work credits are required in order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). As of 2016, a wage earner will earn one work credit for every $1,260 they earn, up to a maximum of four work credits per year. The number of required work credits depends upon a person’s age and the age at which they became disabled.
- Individuals younger than 31 are required to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for half of the time since turning age 21 and becoming disabled. For example, if you became disabled at age 27, you will be required to have worked for a total of 3 years in order to have enough work credits.
- Individuals age 31 through 42 who become disabled are required to have earned a total of 20 work credits.
- In the case of individuals who are older than age of 42 when becoming disabled, the amount of required work credits will gradually increase until the wage earner reaches 62 years of age. At age 62, 40 work credits are required to qualify for SSDI benefits.