Who Qualifies for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Workers must have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for Social Security Disability.

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Not all workers who pay Social Security taxes and are eligible for Social Security retirement at age 62 are eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. Workers must pass two different earnings tests to qualify for Social Security disability benefits: a “duration of work” test and a “recent work” test.

Duration of Work Test

This test reviews your work history to make sure that you paid into the Social Security system for a sufficient period throughout your working life to now collect benefits. The following table shows how much work you need to meet the duration of work test if you become disabled at various ages.

Work Needed for
the Duration of Work Test

If you become disabled…

Then you generally need

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

Age 62

10 years

Recent Work Test

This test mandates that you must have worked approximately five out of 10 years before your disability totally removed you from the workforce. This rule recognizes that workers who became disabled while still young obviously did not have the opportunity to acquire lengthy work records.

The rules are based on the calendar quarter in which you turned or will turn a certain age. The calendar quarters are:

First quarter: January 1 through March 31

Second quarter: April 1 through June 30

Third quarter: July 1 through September 30

Fourth quarter: October 1 through December 31

Rules for Work Needed for the Recent Work Test

If you become disabled…

Then you generally need

In or before the quarter you turn age 24

1.5 years of work during the three-year period ending with the quarter your disability began

In the quarter after you turn age 24 but before the quarter you turn 31

Work during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled

Example: If you become disabled in the quarter you turned age 27, then you would need three years of work out of the six-year period ending with the quarter you became disabled.

In the quarter you turn age 31 or later

Work during five years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began

caution.jpg

CAUTION

Special rules apply to blind individuals. Certain blind workers have to meet only the duration of work test. In addition, a number of other waivers and rules may apply to blind people. For more information, see If You Are Blind or Have Low Vision—How We Can Help, Publication No. 05-10052, available for a free download at www.ssa.gov.

Eligibility of Family Members

Certain members of your family may also qualify for benefits based on your work. They include:

  • your spouse, if he or she is 62 or older
  • your spouse or former spouse, at any age, who is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled
  • your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild; the child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in secondary school full time; and
  • your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22 and meets the definition of disability for adults.

A former spouse may also qualify for benefits based on your earnings record if he or she was married to you for at least 10 years and is not currently married. The money paid to a divorced spouse does not reduce your benefit or any benefits due to a current spouse or children.

Medical Eligibility

After you meet these financial requirements, you also need to convince Social Security that you are medically eligible for Social Security disability.

Updated by: , J.D.

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