The most common disability benefit, the one most people know about, is Social Security Disability (SSD aka SSDI). 

How many Social Security work credits do I need to get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits?

Learn about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for disabled workers including how many Social Security work credits, called quarters of coverage, you need to become insured for SSDI benefits. Also find out how to earn the credits and how to know if you have enough credits to get benefits.

Disability Benefits for Disabled Workers

You can become eligible for SSDI benefits if you become disabled more than five full-calendar months before reaching full retirement age and have enough Social Security work credits that have been earned in a specified period of time. Full retirement age is age sixty-six for individuals born between 1943 and 1954 and age sixty-six plus a varying number of months for those born 1955 to 1959 and age sixty-seven for individuals born 1960 or later.

Your SSDI monthly benefit amount is based on your lifetime earnings and the age you are when your disability begins. In 2019, SSDI benefits range from around $300 a month to $2,861 monthly.

Age at Disability Determines the Number of Work Credits You Need

You must be both fully insured and currently insured to receive Social Security Disability benefits as a disabled worker. The number of work credits required to be insured depends on your age when you become disabled. Work you have done any time in your life counts toward being fully insured. To be fully insured, you must have at least one-quarter of coverage for each year after you turn twenty-one through the year before you become disabled. For example, disability at age forty requires eighteen credits while disability at age fifty-six requires thirty-four credits. The worker must also be currently insured as described below.

Because disability benefits are intended to partially replace earnings lost due to disability, the disabled worker has to have worked and earned a certain portion of the quarters of coverage within a limited period of time before disability begins. Fulfilling this requirement is called being currently insured

Specifically, a disabled worker age thirty-one or older must have earned part of his or her quarters of coverage in the ten years immediately before becoming disabled. Stated another way, he or she must have earned twenty of forty possible quarters of coverage in the ten years before disability begins. Workers who are younger than thirty-one must have earned half of the possible quarters between when they turned age twenty-one and when they became disabled with a minimum of six work credits required. For example, a person who becomes disabled at age twenty-seven would need twelve quarters (half of the twenty-four possible in the six years between ages twenty-one and twenty-seven.) If a person becomes disabled before age twenty-one, the six-credit minimum applies.

Disability Benefits on Another Worker’s Earnings Record

For childhood disability benefits (CDB) or disabled surviving spouse’s benefits to be paid, the worker on whose earnings record benefits are being claimed must be insured and either be deceased or receiving retirement or disability benefits on his or her own earnings record. 

How to Find Out If You Are Insured

If you are disabled, the best way to find out you if you are insured for disability benefits is to file a disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to get a formal decision. When you apply, provide proof of your current year’s and prior year’s earning so that they can be considered in determining your insured status. If you are not disabled or would like a preview, you can review the earnings statement that the Social Security Administration has made available to you online at www.ssa.gov. Just set up a My Social Security account and request an earnings statement (to be distinguished from a benefit statement). If you do not have access to the Internet, you can visit a Social Security office to get the statement. The earnings statement shows your total earnings by year and tells whether you were insured for disability benefits at the time you access the notice. If the statement shows you are insured, retirement and disability benefit projections will also be given. Note, however, that the statement will not include your current year’s earnings and sometimes your prior year’s work. Accordingly, you might be insured even if the statement says that you are not.

Missing Earnings

Although not common, some of your work may be missing from the statement. If so and you can prove the number of your earnings and that Social Security taxes were paid on the earnings, you can get your earnings record corrected. Accordingly, it’s always a good idea to periodically compare your W-2s and self-employment tax returns with the itemization of earnings on the statement to be sure you are getting credit for all your work. This is important not only for insured status but also because your Social Security Disability and Retirement benefit amounts are based on your earnings. If you find a discrepancy, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA), preferably by visiting the closest office; or if that is not possible, call 1-800-772-1213 to arrange to submit copies of any proof you have of the missing earnings; however, if the missing wages are from the most recent three years, SSA will investigate to establish those earnings even if you do not have pay stubs or W-2’s as proof.

Although I have worked in the past, I was not employed when I became disabled. Can I get Social Security Disability benefits?

Learn how your work history may insure you for Social Security Disability benefits even if you were not working when you became disabled.

Yes, You May Be Able to Collect Social Security Disability

You may be able to get Social Security disability benefits even if you were unemployed at the time of your disability.

Work Credit Requirements

To be insured for disability benefits, Social Security requires that you earn a certain number of work credits over your lifetime. Additionally, some of these credits have to be earned in a specified period of time just before your disability begins, but you do not have to be employed at the time of disability.

Work credits are obtained by working in jobs that are subject to Social Security taxation and by earning a certain dollar amount. As the cost of living has increased, the amount of earnings required for a one work credit has also increased. For example, in 2002, a work credit was $820.00 in earnings and in 2011, it was $1,120.00. In 2020 it is $1,410. The number of credits required depends on your age. 

Proof of Recent Work

When you apply for benefits, it is helpful to take documentation of your recent earnings that may not yet be posted in Social Security’s records. Your prior-year W-2s or self-employment tax returns and proof of any current-year earnings, such as pay stubs or business receipts and expenses, will help Social Security correctly assess whether you have enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability.

If I have never worked outside my home or have worked very little; can I get Social Security Disability benefits?

Learn how people who haven’t worked outside their homes or haven’t worked recently may get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability instead of or in addition to Social Security.

Work Credits Requirements for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you are disabled but you have never worked outside your home or you have worked little, you may not be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits on your own earnings record because you may not have enough work credits to be fully insured. Even if you worked for several years, if you have not worked enough recently before the disability began, you may not be currently insured.

Disabled Dependent and Survivor Benefits

If you are not insured and you are age fifty or older and are a surviving spouse or surviving divorced spouse of a deceased, insured worker, you may be eligible for survivors benefits on your deceased spouse’s or former spouse’s earnings record. If your parent is either deceased or receiving Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits and you are unmarried, and you have been continuously disabled since before age twenty-two, you might qualify for childhood disability benefits (CDB). 

No Work Credits Required for SSI Disability Payments

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal, needs-based, public assistance program. Benefits are payable to individuals with limited income and resources who are disabled, including disabled minor children, or who are at least age sixty-five. If no Social Security benefits are available to you, you may still be able to get some financial help by applying to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for SSI disability payments.

Because SSI is paid based on financial need plus age or disability, Social Security will first evaluate your SSI application to see if your family’s income and countable resources (countable assets) fall within SSI’s allowed limits. If a disabled adult lives with his or her spouse, the spouse’s income and resources and the number of dependents the spouse supports are considered in addition to the applicant’s income. Similarly, when a disabled child lives with his or her parents or stepparents, the parental income and resources and the number of dependents the parents support will be considered in determining the disabled child’s financial eligibility.

Once it has been determined that the applicant is financially eligible, the adult’s or child’s medical condition will be reviewed and evaluated to determine whether or not he or she is disabled under Social Security law. SSI’s definition of disability for adults is the same as the definition of disability for Social Security disability. The definition of disability for a minor child and the process for determining medical eligibility for a child are different from the those for an adult. For more information about the adult disability evaluation, please see our collection of articles on the disability claims process. The many articles we offer on SSI provide more information about the financial and child’s disability requirements for Supplemental Security Income eligibility.

Dual Entitlement

Some people with a Social Security benefit of less than $770 may be eligible for a federal SSI payment to supplement their Social Security. The federal supplement will bring the claimant’s total income up to $770 per month. In addition to this, some states pay an optional SSI state supplement.

I am a disabled widow. I have not worked outside my home in many years. Can I get Social Security for disability?

Social Security survivor benefits include benefits for widows and widowers who are age sixty and over, whether or not they are disabled. Additionally, Social Security benefits for disability are available to qualifying disabled widows and widowers as early as age fifty. The older you are when you become disabled, the higher your benefit will be. 

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for widows or widowers benefits, your deceased spouse must have worked enough in Social Security-taxed jobs to insure his or her family for survivor benefits. The Social Security Administration can tell you whether he or she had enough work credits. Another non-disability requirement is that, usually you are not eligible for disabled widow or widower’s benefits if you remarried before age fifty and are still married when you become disabled. Typically, you must also become disabled within seven years of the death of your spouse or within seven years of the end of your prior entitlement, if any, on your spouse’s earnings record.

Disability for Medicare Only

Medicare health insurance begins after you have received twenty-four months of disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits. If you are age sixty or older and you became disabled before age sixty, you can apply for disabled widow’s or widower’s benefits just for the purpose of obtaining Medicare coverage earlier than age sixty-five. Being found disabled for Medicare purposes will not increase your widow’s benefit based on age, but it will provide medical insurance coverage. 

Disabled Surviving Divorced Spouses

Disabled surviving divorced spouses who were married to a deceased insured worker for more than ten years are eligible under the same rules as widows and widowers. Social Security for disability can be paid to a disabled widow or widower and to a disabled surviving divorced spouse simultaneously without reducing the amount of each other’s benefits.