Determining disability eligibility
After you’ve applied for SSDI, the federal government will have to determine if you meet the work requirements necessary to receive benefits. Work requirements look at both recent work and the duration of your work. If you meet both, the severity of your disability will then be determined.
SSDI work requirements
One of the major factors for disability is whether or not you have had recent employment and have worked long enough to qualify for social security disability insurance.
The federal government answers this question by determining a person’s Social Security credits. Credits are basic units of measurement that determine whether a worker is insured under the Social Security program.
The number of work credits you need to meet the work requirements for disability benefits depends on your age on the date you became disabled.
Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits, but generally a worker needs 40 credits to qualify. Twenty of those credits must be earned within the last 10 years before becoming disabled.
What is a Quarter of Coverage (QC) or Social Security Credit
A credit, legally termed a Quarter of Coverage (QC), is essentially a building block or gauge of accumulated work based on total yearly wages or self-employment income.
The credits allow the Social Security Administration to determine if a person has put in enough time to receive benefits.
One credit is given when a certain amount of money is earned. In 2020, $1,410 in wages equals 1 credit.1 You can receive up to four credits per year.
Note: the earnings Social Security uses to calculate your credits are only earnings on which you pay Social Security taxes as indicated on your tax return. Interest on savings or investments do not count toward earning a credit.
What does “recent employment’ mean?
According to the SSA, you must complete a certain amount of work during a determined time frame in order to meet the “recent work” requirements. The time frame takes into account the age at which you became disabled.
Time frames are based on the calendar quarter in which you turn a certain age:
- First Quarter: January 1 – March 31
- Second Quarter: April 1 – June 30
- Third Quarter: July 1 – September 30
- Fourth Quarter: October 1 – December 31
Next, to determine the amount of work that must be completed, follow the chart below:
If you become disabled...
Amount of Credits Needed
In or before the quarter you turn 24
6 credits or 1.5 years of work over the 3-year period before the disability started
In the quarter after you turn 24 but before the quarter you turn 31
Credits for half of the years between your 21st birthday and the quarter you became disabled
In the quarter you turn 31-42
Credits that equal your age subtracted by 12.
At or after 62
Note: Blind applicants typically do not have to satisfy the recent work test
Example: John becomes disabled at 29 and is no longer able to work. John adds up the years between his 21st and 29th birthday- 8. John then halves that number to determine the amount of credits needed to qualify for SSDI- 4. Because you can only earn 4 social security credits a year, John then multiplies his year number, 4, by 4. John needs 16 work credits to qualify.
Determining employment duration
You must have worked long enough in the federal government’s eyes to receive Social Security Disability Benefits. Work does not need to fall within a certain time period. Below is a sample of ages and the average amount of work needed to qualify.
Age You Become Disabled
Average Years of Work Needed
Before age 28
SSDI pays only for total disability, not short-term disabilities.
According to the SSA, disability is based on a person’s inability to work. Their definition is very strict, but you qualify if you meet the following criteria:
- You cannot do the work that you once did.
- Social Security decides that you cannot adjust to other forms of work because of this medical condition.
- Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
The reason why no short-term disability is provided through Social Security is because the federal government assumes that working families will have access to workers’ compensation, insurance, savings and investments for support during short-term disability periods.
Once the Social Security Administration completes your employment evaluation, the application will be sent to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) to complete the disability assessment.
The DDS considers all facts in your case and inquires about your medical condition: when it began, how it limits your activities, what medical tests have shown, and what treatment you have received.
Note: The DDS uses doctors and disability specialists in the state agency to request information from your doctors about your condition.
Social Security disability determination process
Social Security uses a 5-step process to determine if your disability is severe enough to qualify for benefits.
Step 1. Current work status
Generally, Social Security will not consider you disabled if you are working and earning more than a specified monthly amount—in 2020, that amount for a non-blind individual is $1,260 per month.2 (The Social Security Administration publishes the specified monthly amount each year.)
If you’re not working or earning less than the specified amount, the DDS will use steps 2-5 to make a decision on your medical condition.
Step 2. Severity of condition
To be considered severe, the disability must significantly limit the ability to perform basic work activities—lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering—for at least 12 months.
If this qualification is satisfied, the DDS will move on to step three.
Step 3. Is the condition listed?
The Social Security Administration maintains a comprehensive list of medical conditions and circumstances that automatically mean a person is disabled.
For a list of Social Security’s blue book of qualifying adult medical conditions, click here.
If the condition is listed, you will be found disabled.
If a condition is not listed, the DDS must decide if the severity is equal to a medical condition on the list. If that is not determined, the DDS will continue to steps 4 and 5.
Step 4. Can you reasonably perform your previous work?
If your condition is not on the list and is not equally as severe as one on the list, the DDS must establish that it prevents you from performing any of your past work. If that interference is determined, then the DDS moves on to step 5.
If your medical condition does not interfere with your ability to do the previous work, your qualification claim will be denied.
Step 5. Can you perform any other type of work?
The agency will consider your age, education, past work experience, and any special skills you may have to determine if you can do other work than what you had previously. If you can adjust to other work, you will not qualify for benefits.
If you are considered unable to do other work, your application for benefits will most likely be approved.
Expedited SSDI application process
To expedite new disability claims, the following initiatives have been created:
Social Security makes allowances for people to receive benefits quickly if they suffer from medical conditions that are so obvious that they easily meet disability standards.
Compassionate Allowances quickly identify diseases and medical conditions that fall under the Blue Book of Impairments with minimal medical information. This allows Social Security to speed up the process of helping people obtain benefits in the shortest amount of time possible.
The list of Compassionate Allowances has been developed based on public hearing held by Social Security, along with input from medical and scientific experts and the National Institutes of Health. Currently allowances include disabilities such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, organ transplants, schizophrenia, and others.
A full list of Compassionate Allowances can be found here.
Quick Disability Determinations:
Sophisticated computer screening is used here to identify cases that have a high probability of allowance.