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How Do You Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

  • December 15th, 2022

Miniature of a senior man using cane standing on stack of coins.Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is a government-sponsored program that pays recipients based on disability, regardless of their income.

The SSDI program is federally funded insurance program for workers and is managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

How Does SSDI Work?

SSDI recipients who meet the program’s qualifications receive a monthly stipend from the SSA to help provide for their daily needs. A disabled worker must meet each qualification to get into the program and to remain eligible for benefits.

What Qualifies as a Disability?

The SSA strictly defines disability for SSDI purposes. A worker must be totally disabled to receive benefits. The SSA does not award benefits for partial or short-term disabilities.

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To be considered disabled, the SSA requires the applicant to meet the following criteria:

1. An applicant cannot work or engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a medical condition. The amount a worker can earn changes yearly. In 2023, a worker cannot earn more than $2,460 if they are blind and no more than $1,470 if they are sighted.

2. An applicant’s condition has lasted, or will last, for at least one year, or will lead to the applicant’s death.

3. The applicant cannot do the work they previously did and cannot work in another field because of their medical condition.

You also must have accumulated a certain number of work credits before you can qualify for SSDI disability benefits. How many credits you need to qualify depends on the age you become disabled.

What Is a Work Credit?

A work credit reflects the amount of time that an applicant has worked. Workers earn work credits by working and paying Social Security taxes. A worker can earn up to four work credits per year of employment.

Applicants must have worked for a specified amount of time to qualify for SSDI and must have earned at least 40 work credits to qualify for benefits.

A worker earns work credits based on their total employment or self-employment wages for the year. Depending on your income, it may not take long for you to earn the four credits available for the year. As of 2022, once a worker earns $6,040, they have earned the four credits possible for the year.

Age and Earning Work Credits

Since only four work credits are available each year, younger workers are less likely to have hit the 40 work credits required for SSDI. To account for this, the SSA requires a different number of work credits depending on the age of the worker.

To Qualify for SSDI:

  • Workers under 24 must have six work credits in the three-year period before becoming disabled.
  • Workers aged 24 to 31 must have worked for half of the time between their 21st birthday and when they became disabled. For example, if a worker is disabled at age 27, they must have earned 12 work credits, or have proof they worked for at least three years.
  • Workers aged 31 and older must have earned at least 20 work credits in the 10 years that preceded their disability.
Do Children Qualify for SSDI?

Minors may qualify for SSDI payments under two circumstances: if the child’s parent(s) is disabled or deceased.

If a disabled child over the age of 18 is unmarried, they may qualify for SSDI benefits if they became disabled before they turned 22.

How Much Does SSDI Pay?

The amount that an individual receives from SSDI varies, depending on the amount of money they earned before they became disabled.

In 2022, the average SSDI payment was $1,358 per month. On the high end, recipients received $3,345 per month. The lowest monthly amount paid in 2022 was $100.

To get an estimate of how much you may receive from SSDI payments, visit the SSA website.

When to Apply for Disability Benefits

The application process for disability benefits is complicated and time-consuming. Before you can collect benefits, you must have been disabled for at least six months.

However, the application process itself can take up to six months. So, do not wait for the six-month period of disability to elapse before applying for benefits; do it as soon as you become disabled.

To learn more about the steps involved in applying, visit the SSA website.

Reach Out to an Attorney Today

If you are looking for legal assistance related to SSDI, find a qualified special needs planner in your area. While some ElderLawAnswers attorneys in this area of the law, all attorneys available through SpecialNeedsAnswers have a significant part of their practices devoted to working with individuals with special needs and their families.


Last Modified: 12/15/2022
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