How Long Do I Have to Work to Qualify for Disability?

The length of time you must work before qualifying for Social Security Disability (SSD) depends on several factors. When applying for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers your age and the number of years you have worked. However, your recent employment history is also a factor when determining eligibility for disability benefits.

Not being able to work due to an accident or illness and the resulting decrease in or lack of income can cause significant stress. If you are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSD or SSDI) for the first time, you may also need a lot of help and support. That is why most people who apply for disability benefits get the help of an experienced disability attorney

This article aims to answer a common question regarding disability benefits: “How long do you have to work to qualify for disability?”

Work Credits (“Quarters of Coverage”) and Disability

To apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSD or SSDI), you must have enough work credits or “quarters of coverage.” Typically, the SSA requires that you have at least 20 work credits or “quarters of coverage” from the previous ten years of employment. In other words, you should have worked for at least five years during the last ten years.

Younger workers can usually apply for disability benefits with fewer credits or “quarters of coverage.” For example, a person aged between 24 and 30 can apply for SSDI if they have between eight and 18 credits or “quarters of coverage” or two to four and half years of work.

Employment history is another factor affecting how long you must work to get disability benefits. Generally, successful disability claimants must have enough work credits or “quarters of coverage” from the ten years before filing a claim.

The Social Security Administration provides a helpful chart to determine how long you should have worked in the past ten years to apply for Social Security Disability.

Source: Disability Benefits Help

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits from the Social Security Administration with Insufficient Work Credits (“Quarters of coverage”)

If you do not have enough work credits or “quarters of coverage” to apply for SSDI, there is still a possibility you can apply for benefits through the Social Security Administration. You can inquire if you qualify to apply for benefits as a “Disabled Adult Child” (DAC) through a parent’s account (although this program has very restrictive and specific rules). Or, if you are in severe financial need, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. Rather than looking at your employment history for SSI disability, the Social Security Administration considers your household income and assets. If you meet the criteria, you will be able to apply for SSI disability benefits. 

When Can You Apply for Disability?

You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits as soon as an illness or injury stops you from working or causes you to significantly reduce your work activities (to below SGA or “substantial gainful activity” earnings level, which is $1310 gross per month in 2021). However, you will still need to prove that you will not be able to work (or work enough to earn above SGA) due to your health impairments for at least the next 12 months. 

Medical requirements to Qualify for Disability Benefits

If you have sufficient work credits or “quarters of coverage” to technically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (or you qualify for DAC or SSI disability benefits), you must then prove that you meet the medical requirements necessary to qualify for the benefits program. Social Security will look to your medical records and statements from your physicians, and if necessary, reports from medical or psychological examinations that they send you to, in determining whether you meet the medical requirements to be awarded disability. Documents include diagnostic test results, physical examination, or psychological evaluation results, medications, diagnoses, statements regarding prognosis, etc.

Arrange a Consultation with an Experienced Disability Attorney

Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a complicated process. There are many factors that SSA considers before awarding benefits to a claimant. Attorney Sara J. Frankel is a former Social Security Administration staff attorney. Thanks to almost 30 years of work in the field of Social Security disability law, Attorney Frankel can give you the legal assistance and advice you need to prevail in your disability benefits claim. 

Contact the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel & Associates today at 508-730-1451 for a free consultation.