How to Qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI) Benefits
The Social Security Administration has a number of requirements you must meet before qualifying for Social Security Disability
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that pays you monthly benefits if you are insured under the program and become disabled before you reach retirement age and cannot work.
Below is a short summary of the basic requirements for SSDI.
The requirements are generally divided into two categories:
(A) Work requirements and
(B) Disability requirements.
A. Work Requirements
In order to qualify for SSDI, you must first be insured for disability benefits on the date that you become disabled.
There is a two part test for determining whether you are insured.
The test looks at:
(1.) Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI (the “duration of work test”); and
(2) Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage (the “current work test”).
1. Duration of Work Test
Instead of using “years worked” to determine whether you are covered, SSDI uses a system based on “credits.”
SSDI credits are calculated based on your earnings, as long as the earnings were subject to Social Security payroll taxes (FICA) or Social Security self-employment taxes. The dollar amount it takes to earn one credit is calculated annually. For 2020, you must earn $1,410 to be awarded one work credit or $5,640 to earn the maximum allowed four credits.
You can earn these four credits at any time during the year.
You earn one at $1,410 of earnings, two at $2,820 of earnings, three at $4,230 of earnings, and four at $5,640 of earnings. You are not limited to earning one credit in each quarter of the year, as was required under previous rules.
The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.
SSDI has established a sliding scale for the number of credits you must earn in order to be covered under the SSDI program. Based on the scale, the older you are at the time you become disabled, the more credits you must have earned for SSDI eligibility purposes.
Under the duration of work test, you must have earned a certain number of credits by the time you became disabled. The rough equivalents for credits to work looks like this:
- Before age 24–You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
- Age 24 to 31–You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
- Age 31 or older–In general, you need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below.
For the Non-blind, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
|Born after 1929, Became Disabled At Age||Credits you need||Work years you need|
|31 through 42 years old||20 credits||5 years|
|44 years old||22 credits||5.5 years|
|46 years old||24 credits||6 years|
|48 years old||26 credits||6.5 years|
|50 years old||28 credits||7 years|
|52 years old||30 credits||7.5 years|
|54 years old||32 credits||8 years|
|56 years old||34 credits||8.5 years|
|58 years old||36 credits||9 years|
|60 years old||38 credits||9.5 years|
|62 years old or older||40 credits||10 years|
2. Recent Work Test
In addition to having earned the necessary number of total credits, SSDI requires that a certain number of the credits must be earned “recently.”
Again the test is somewhat complicated. The recent work test is based on your age when you became disabled. The SSDI rules then determine how much recent work you need to have based on the “calendar quarter” in which your birthday falls. The four quarters are defined as being from (1) January 1 through March 31; (2) April 1 through June 30; (3) July 1 through September 30; and (4) October 1 through December 31.
Using this calendar quarter system:
a. If you become disabled in or before the quarter you turn 24 years old, you generally need to have worked 1.5 of the past 3 years, ending with the quarter your disability began.
b. If you became disabled in the quarter after you turned 24 but before the quarter you turned 31, then you need to have worked half of the time between the quarter when you turned 21 and the quarter when you became disabled.
c. Lastly, if you become disabled in the quarter you turn 31 or older, you need to have worked five out of the last 10 years, ending with the quarter you became disabled.
B. Medical Eligibility Requirement
In addition to the work requirements, SSDI rules requires that you have a severe, long-term, total disability.
SSDI rules use a five-step process to determine if you are disabled for SSDI purposes. The five steps look at the following questions:
- Are You Working?
To qualify for SSDI, your disability must be “total,” such that you are not able to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for at least one year. In 2020, if you are disabled non-blind but currently working and you make over $1,260/month, you are not considered disabled enough to qualify for SSDI benefits.
- Is Your Medical Condition Severe?
Under SSDI rules, your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering. The medical condition must also be “long term,” in that: (1) it has already existed for 12 months; or (2) is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in your death.
- Is Your Medical Condition on the List of Impairments?
SSDI has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your condition is on this list, you will be considered disabled for SSDI purposes. Also if your condition (or the combination of your conditions if you have more than one) is as severe or worse than the conditions on this “list,” then you will be considered disabled for SSDI purposes
- Can You Do the Work You Did Before?
If your medical condition was not on the list of impairments, or did not meet or exceed the severity of conditions on the list, SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition. If it does not, then you are not considered disabled “enough” for SSDI purposes. If you cannot do your prior work, step five is considered.
- Can You Do Any Other Type of Work?
If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work. This evaluation considers your medical condition, your age, and your educational background, as well as any past work experiences or skills that you may have that could transfer to any other type of work. If you cannot do other work, you will be considered sufficiently disabled for SSDI purposes.
Time Frame for Approval or Denial of Social Security Disability Benefits
The application process for SSDI benefits is complex.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that it will take three to five months to process your initial application. Additional time will be involved if you are asked to provide further information once the review process has begun. The determination process is even longer if your initial application is denied, which happens frequently because only about one-third of initial SSDI applications are approved.
An experienced Social Security Disability benefits attorney can make all the difference in whether you receive SSDI benefits to which you may be entitled. The attorneys at Bemis, Roach & Reed have been successfully representing SSDI applicants in throughout Texas. If you need a qualified SSD benefits attorney in Texas, call us at (512) 454-4000 or contact us online.
Bemis, Roach & Reed has helped clients who are disabled from a wide variety of medical conditions. If you are unable to work due to any of the following conditions and have been denied disability benefits, contact us. We would like to help.
- Acid Reflux
- AIDS / HIV
- Alcohol Dependence
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ("ALS")
- Autoimmune Disorder
- Back Pain
- Bipolar Disorder
- Bladder Control
- Blood Disorder
- Brain Aneurysm
- Brain Tumor
- Breast Cancer
- Bulging / Herniated Disc
- Cancer (all kinds)
- Car Accident
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Cerebral Atrophy
- Cerebral Palsy
- Cervical Disc Disease
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases
- Chronic Pain Syndrome
- Congestive Heart Disease
- Congnitive Dysfunction
- Coronary Dysfunction
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Down Syndrome
- Epstein-Barr Virus
- Essential Tremor
- Falls and disability
- Gastrointestinal Reflux
- Hearing Impairment
- Heart Failure
- Hepatitis C
- Herniated / Bulging Disc
- High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
- Hip Replacement
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Huntington’s Disease
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Ischemic Heart Disease Disability
- Kidney Disease
- Knee Disorder/Replacement
- Liver Cancer
- Liver Disease
- Lumbar Disc Disease
- Lumbar Radiculopathy
- Lung Cancer
- Lyme Disease
- Macular Edema/Degeneration
- Memory Disorder
- Menieres Disease
- Mental Illness
- Multiple Myeloma
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome
- Neurocognitive Disorder
- Parkinsons Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”)
- Prostate Cancer
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (“RSD”)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Seizure Disorder
- Sjorgen's Syndrome
- Skin Cancer
- Sleep Apnea
- Spinal Stenosis
- Systemic Sclerosis
- Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Throat Cancer
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Vision Impairment
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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