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What Are Social Security Work Credits?


If you’ve looked into applying for Social Security disability benefits, you’ve seen that the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two programs: supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB).

These programs differ in how a person will qualify for benefits. Both programs require a person to have a medically determinable disability, but their financial requirements differ. For SSI, you don’t have to have any kind of work history, but you will need to prove your income is below a certain threshold. On the other hand, DIB is for those who have earned a certain number of work credits.

But what are work credits, and how do you earn them?

Earning Work Credits


The SSA has come up with the concept of “work credits” to simplify the process for becoming eligible to receive payments from Social Security. They measure a person’s payment into the system (while they work) which makes them eligible to take money from the system if and when they need to.

The Social Security system was established to connect working Americans to citizens who can’t work, and therefore can’t earn a living on their own. To this day, Social Security takes a percentage of full-time employees’ income to help provide services like DIB and SSI to those in need. You’ve seen Social Security taxes on your paycheck — it’s that automatic payment that generates your work credits.

As long as you pay into the system during your career, you are building eligibility to withdraw from it later in life, should you ever need to.

Now, the SSA places limits on becoming eligible for disability benefits by requiring at least half of the necessary work credits come from the previous 10 years of employment. This means you cannot have been unemployed for more than 5 years and expect to be eligible for DIB, because you have not paid your taxes recently.

All that said, as a full-time employee in 2017 you can earn one work credit for every $1,300 of income. You can only earn up to four work credits per year, though, so regardless of whether you make exactly $5,200 or more than $100,000 annually, you will only earn four work credits each year.

How Many Work Credits Do I Need?


The SSA adjusts the required number of work credits for DIB according to the age of the person applying. Each age group is required to have earned a certain number of work credits within recent years, although the number of credits and time span varies by age:

  • 24 and Under: Six work credits, three of which must be earned in the past three years. (This is different for children who are disabled.)
  • 25 to 30: Subtract 21 from your current age, then divide by two. This is the number of years of work credits you need to apply for DIB. (For example, if you’re a 29-year-old, take 29 minus 21 to get eight. Eight divided by two equals four, which means you need four years of work credits. Since you earn four work credits each year, you will need 16 work credits to qualify.)
  • 31 to 42: Typically, you need 20 work credits, all of which must be earned in the past 10 years.
  • 43 to 61: Add one work credit per year over 42 to the 20 needed in the previous age group. (For example, if you’re a 46-year old: 46 minus 42 is four. If you add four to the 20 previously required, you get 24. That means you need 24 work credits to qualify for DIB.)
  • 62 and Older: 40 credits, 20 of which must be earned in the past 10 to 15 years.

Help from an Evansville Social Security Disability Attorney

These age brackets and work credit earning history can be confusing when put into real life contexts. If you have questions or are unsure whether you qualify for disability benefits, call Hensley Legal Group today. Our compassionate Evansville disability attorneys can help you no matter where you are in the application process. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.