How to Qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI)

Eligibility for SSDI is contingent on disability and the inability to work. To apply for social security disability, you must be able to demonstrate that you have a qualifying disability that prevents you from being able to complete substantial work.

The disability must be a physical and/or mental condition that lasts for at least 12 months, is expected to last for at least 12 months, or is expected to result in death. Further, the disability must prevent the performance of any substantial work, also referred to as substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2021, the SSA defines “substantial work” as earnings of $1,310 per month (up from $1,260 in 2020). Any income below this cap still allows you to apply for SSDI.

Applying for Social Security disability also requires you to be “insured” under Title II of the Social Security Act. This essentially means you must have worked long enough, recently enough, and contributed to the Social Security trust fund by paying tax on your earnings. While you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn Social Security “work credits.” Accumulating enough work credits, with some of them being earned recently enough, is one criterion for being able to receive Social Security disability payments.

The amount of income required to earn a credit changes from year to year. In 2020, you must have made $1,410 to earn one work credit, however, the maximum number of work credits you can earn is four credits per year. The number of work credits needed to qualify for SSDI varies depending on your age when you stopped working due to your disability, and so the number of years you are required to have worked also varies.

In general, you need 40 work credits and must be earning at least $780 per month to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Finally, you must be under the age of 65 to receive SSDI. If you do qualify for SSDI, you will automatically qualify for Medicare after receiving SSDI benefits for two years, even if you are younger than the ordinary qualifying age for Medicare.

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