How Long Do I Need to Work in Order to Qualify for SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal insurance program that provides a cash benefit and eventual Medicare eligibility to people who are unable to work due to serious and ongoing disabilities. Since SSDI is an insurance program and not a means-tested benefit, it does not matter how much money a worker has in the bank when he becomes unable to work. However, in order to qualify for SSDI benefits, a worker has to not only meet stringent medical requirements, but he must also have worked for a certain amount of time prior to becoming "disabled."

An SSDI applicant must pass two different work-related tests in order to potentially receive benefits. The first test is called the recent work test, and it requires an applicant to have actually worked for a certain number of years during the period immediately prior to becoming "disabled." Applicants under the age of 24 must have worked for at least 1.5 years after turning 21 in order to pass the recent work test, while applicants between the ages of 24 and 31 must have worked for half of the time beginning when they turned 21. For example, if an applicant is 29, she must have worked for four years in order to pass the recent work test. Finally, applicants aged 31 and over must have worked for 5 out of the 10 years prior to becoming disabled.

The second work-related test is called the duration of work test. This test measures the amount of work an SSDI applicant has performed over the course of her lifetime. In general, if a beneficiary under the age of 42 passes the recent work test, she is likely going to pass the duration of work test. However, once a beneficiary turns 42, she must add one quarter of work per year in order to pass the duration of work test. For instance, a 46-year-old beneficiary must have worked for 6 years since turning 21 in order to pass the duration of work test and a 50-year-old beneficiary must have worked for 7 years. (In each case, a beneficiary must have earned at least 5 of those years within 10 years of becoming disabled.)

While these requirements may seem onerous, there is one bright side. The Social Security Administration calculates time spent working based on a quarter system, and that measurement is based on the amount of money an individual makes during a calendar year. For 2014, a worker earns one quarter of coverage for every $1,200 he makes, up to a maximum of four quarters a year. So in order to earn a full "year" of work, i.e., four quarters, a worker needs to earn $4,800 in 2014, and it does not matter when he earns it. So a high-income worker who makes $4,800 in January 2014 will have earned his full year by the end of the first month.

The SSDI work tests are complicated, and the Social Security Administration does not always calculate benefits properly. If you think you qualify for SSDI, or if you want more information about the program, contact your special needs planner.

To read the Social Security Administration's primer on SSDI benefits, click here.

Article Last Modified: 03/20/2014

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