How Long Will I Have to Have Worked to Be Eligible to Receive Social Security Disability (SSDI)?

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How Long Will I Have to Have Worked to Be Eligible to Receive Social Security Disability (SSDI)?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides monthly benefits to certain individuals who have acquired a permanent or long-lasting disability and are no longer able to work. However, SSDI is not only a need-based benefit but also one you have to pay into in order to be eligible to receive it. In other words, if you have not worked much in the past few years — or if you haven’t earned any work income at all — then you may not be eligible to receive SSDI.

Woman in wheelchair being escorted

SSDI work credits are based on the amount of income you earn each year. The number of income required changes from year to year. In 2021, individuals earn one Social Security (or Medicare) credit for every $1,470 in Social Security-taxed income, up to 4 per year. Individuals seeking SSDI must have achieved the minimum amount of work credits, both overall and in the recent years in which they have worked.


Determining the work credits needed in order to be eligible to receive SSDI can be tricky. The work credit requirements change based on your age, and there may be special circumstances involved, especially if you have become blind. A Florida disability attorney can help you navigate the complex process, appeal a denial of benefits, and generally help you seek Social Security disability benefits when you are hurt or sick and no longer able to work.

Who Is Eligible to Claim SSDI?

In order to be eligible to receive SSDI, you must be unable to work in your previous job or any other job role as a result of an injury, illness, or other medical condition. Unlike workers’ compensation, your condition does not have to be related to your occupation in order to be eligible to receive SSDI. Benefits are, however, only available to individuals who have earned the required amount of work credits and whose condition is not expected to improve within the next year or, at very least, prior to their death.

How Many Work Credits Are Needed to Be Able to Get SSDI?

The general rule of thumb for the Social Security Administration (SSA) is that individuals need 40 work credits total in order to be eligible to receive SSDI benefits.

Further, at least 20 credits have to have been earned in the past 10 years immediately preceding your disability’s onset. What this means is that if you stopped working or earned very little income from working in the past 10 years, you may not be eligible for SSDI. That is one major reason why it is so important to claim disability as soon as you are unable to work, rather than trying to “tough it out” or survive on other means for several years before you file a claim.

Individuals who are younger than 60 may be eligible to receive SSDI with fewer than 40 overall work credits. SSA provides an example stating that if you are younger than 24, you may be able to qualify to receive SSDI with just “6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.”

Individuals 24 – 31 may be eligible to receive SSDI for earning at least half the total credits available in the time period leading up to the disability. For example, SSA provides the example that if you are 27, you must have earned 12 credits (about 3 years’ worth of work) in the past 6 years.

Individuals 31 or older need at least 20 credits earned in the 10-year period prior to the onset of their disability, and they must have achieved an appropriate number of overall work credits corresponding to their age.

SSA provides the example table below, with the caveat that these numbers are just estimates and do not necessarily reflect the credits needed for your specific situation:


Age of Disability Onset Total Work Credits Needed (Estimate)
Before age 28 1.5 years of work
Age 30 2 years
Age 34 3 years
Age 38 4 years
Age 42 5 years
Age 44 5.5 years
Age 46 6 years
Age 48 6.5 years
Age 50 7 years
Age 52 7.5 years
Age 54 8 years
Age 56 8.5 years
Age 58 9 years
Age 60 9.5 years


Unfortunately, this complicated system can mean it is difficult to find out whether or not you have earned enough work credits to be eligible to receive SSDI. A Florida disability lawyer can assist you with determining the eligibility requirements for your unique situation.

How Are Work Credits Earned?

You earn work credits any time you earn income that is taxed for Social Security. If you receive a regular paycheck, most jobs automatically withhold the amount of Social Security taxes needed. This withholding amount is listed under “Social Security” on your pay stub or the W2 you receive at the beginning of each new year.

Some occupations do not automatically withhold Social Security taxes, especially those that receive state funding and which tend to have their own retirement program. Independent contractors, including freelancers and self-employed individuals, also do not automatically pay into Social Security when they receive income. Instead, these individuals will need to estimate their needed Social Security contribution when they pay taxes at year-end. It is also wise to set aside the money needed to pay into Social Security and to make pre-payments to the IRS based on your estimated yearly income.

The good news is that it does not take much income to earn the maximum amount of work credits per year. As stated in the introduction above, you need just $1,470 per work credit in 2021, and that amount was lower in years prior. The only drawback is that you cannot earn more than 4 work credits per year.

Work With a Florida Disability Lawyer If You Aren’t Sure About Your Work Credits

There are many ways to calculate your work credits, and there are many rules that can come into effect in specific situations. For example, certain dependents including a spouse or children can receive SSDI survivor benefits if the recipient dies. They may also be eligible to receive partial benefits if they are a disabled adult child dependent and the head of household earned the needed credits.

The SSA may also have different ways to calculate your eligibility. For example, individuals who are blind are exempted from the “recent work test” requirements.

Speak to an experienced Florida disability lawyer at Hoskins, Turco, Lloyd & Lloyd to learn more about what you may need in order to qualify for disability. Make a free, no-obligation appointment now with a knowledgeable attorney near you when you call 866-930-6435 or contact us online.

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