Work Credits and How They Affect Social Security Disability

What are work credits and how do they affect Social Security benefits?

As you move through your working career, you earn work credits for each year during which you earn wages and pay FICA taxes into the Social Security system. These credits are being banked so that you will be able to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits should you become unable to continue earning a living. These credits are required for you to be entitled to receive SSDI, Social Security, Retirement, and Medicare benefits. Work credits, like other aspects of Social Security Disability, can be complicated and confusing, especially to those simultaneously dealing with the trauma of becoming disabled. This is why it is critical to engage the services of an experienced, highly competent disability attorney to help you apply and receive the benefits to which you are entitled.

What is a common number of work credits to receive over one’s working years?

The maximum number of work credits an individual worker can receive is four per year. The precise number of work credits you earn during a particular year depends on your employment activity and the amount you earn. As of 2016, a worker is required to earn $1260 for each single work credit. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you will typically need to have accumulated a total of 20 work credits; there are, however, age exceptions to this rule.

How many work credits do you have to accrue to be able to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

While in general, adults over the age of 31 years much have accumulated 20 work credits within the past 15 years of work, if you are younger, you may be able to qualify for benefits with fewer work credits.

Disability applicants who are under 24 years of age, for example, may be able to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits if they have earned a total of six work credits in the 3 years prior to the onset of the disability. If you apply for Social Security Disability benefits between the ages of 24 and 30, you must have worked half of the time between age 21 and the time you became disabled. As you age, the years of work necessary to qualify you for SSD increase incrementally; as your age increases from 30 to 62+, your work years gradually increase to 10 and your work credits to 40.

When Work Credits Do Not Apply

It should be remembered that work credits only apply to SSDI benefits. They do not apply if you suffer from long-term or lifetime disability in which case you do not have to have earned work credits to apply for Social Security assistance. Since Social Security Insurance is a needs-based program, instead of meeting work credit requirements, you will have meet household income and asset restrictions in order to be approved for SSI payments.

Clarifying the Difference between SSDI and SSI

The SSDI program typically bases your benefits on your work credits, or the numbers of years you have invested in your own potential inability to work; it is in no way based on your financial need. You can qualify for SSDI regardless of your household income as long as you meet the SSA’s disability criteria and have sufficient work credits.

SSI, on the other hand, is entirely need-based and does not require that the individual receiving benefits has a work record, only that he or she be long-term or permanently disabled and has insufficient income or assets to maintain sustenance.