How Long Do I Have to Work to Be Eligible for Disability Guidelines?

How Long Do I Have to Work to Be Eligible for Disability Guidelines?
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The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two programs designed to provide support to individuals unable to work due to a disability or blindness. The SSA sends disability insurance payments (SSDI) to disabled people who qualify to receive them based on their work records. Disabled individuals with limited or no income and few resources receive supplemental security income (SSI) stipends based on their financial need.


The SSA maintains the same definition of disability when deciding if an adult is eligible to receive SSDI or SSI payments. The SSA considers a person disabled if he suffers from a physical or mental condition expected to either result in his death or impair him for a minimum of 12 consecutive months. The SSA also considers whether a person’s disability will prevent him from either performing his former work duties or pursuing work in another field when determining an applicant’s eligibility to receive payments. The SSA considers individuals immediately eligible to receive payments once diagnosed with certain afflictions such as pancreatic cancer and acute leukemia.

Work Credits

To receive SSDI payments, the SSA requires a person to earn a certain number of work credits before he qualifies to receive disability payments. A person earns a single work credit for each $1,120 he earns during 2011. A person earns up to four credits for each year he works and pays taxes into the Social Security Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Income

The SSA assigns the number of work credits a person must earn to receive SSDI benefits based on his age. For individuals under age 24, the SSA requires the accumulation of six credits during the three years preceding the occurrence of a disability. For a person older than 24 but younger than 31, the SSA requires him to earn credits for half of the time that transpires between his 21st birthday and the time of his disability. For example, a 30-year-old would have to accumulate four-and-a-half years of work, equaling 18 work credits, for the SSA to consider him eligible for SSDI payments. The SSA incrementally increases the number of credits required for a person to receive SSDI payments for people between 31 and 62 up to a maximum of 40 credits.

Supplemental Security Income

Because the SSI program receives funding from the general tax pool rather than a dedicated trust, the SSA does not apply the work credit requirement for a person to receive SSI funds. Instead, the SSA examines an individual’s income and resources independently of his work history to determine his eligibility to receive disability payments. For a disabled or blind person to receive SSI funds, his resources must be less than $2,000, or $3,000 if married, and his monthly income must equal a figure below thresholds identified in the SSA’s 2011 Red Book.