What Are Work Credits for Social Security Disability?

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If you choose to apply for Social Security disability benefits, there are two programs for which you may be eligible: supplemental security income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB), also known as Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).

Both programs require you to meet specific disability requirements, but they also have other restrictions. For SSI, your household income has to be below a certain level in order to qualify. For DIB, whether or not you qualify is dependent upon your work credits.

But what are work credits? How many do you need for DIB? And how do you earn them?

Work Credits: Defined

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The term “work credit” is just the measuring block the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine whether or not you’ve worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for benefits.

Social Security is a federal government program financed by taxpayers. When you work, Social Security automatically deducts your paycheck by a certain amount each pay period to put money into the program. You’ve probably seen these taxes outlined on your paycheck. They’re just one of the many taxes you pay automatically when you receive a paycheck.

By paying into the system with every paycheck, you’re “opting in” to Social Security and you’ll remain eligible for Social Security disability benefits as you continue to work in case the day ever comes where you become disabled and need to use them.

But if you have been unemployed for many years or if you’ve received pay without paying taxes, you haven’t been paying into Social Security. Because you’ve not “opted in” with your taxes, you’re not eligible to withdraw benefits if you ever need them.

“Work credits,” therefore, are a way for Social Security to measure your work history and make sure you’ve paid into Social Security and are therefore eligible to withdraw benefits.

Currently, in 2019, one work credit is equal to $1,360 in income. You can earn up to 4 work credits a year.

That means that, no matter if you make $5,440 a year or $52,000 a year, you earn the same amount of work credits each year.

How Many Work Credits Do You Need?

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For disability benefits, how many work credits you need depends on how old you were when you became disabled.

This makes sense if you think about it. If a person becomes disabled at age 20, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work as many years as a person who became disabled at age 40.

Work credits also expire. Not only do you need a certain number of work credits, but you need to have earned them in recent years.

So how many work credits do you need? Here’s the estimate for various age groups:

24 and Under: Generally, you need six credits earned within the three years prior to your disability. This is different for children who become disabled.

24 to 30: This age group requires a little bit of math to determine how many credits they need. Typically, you need credits for half of the time between age 21 and how old you were when you became disabled. For example, if you became disabled at 29, then you would need work credits for half of those eight years between 21 and 29. That’s four years’ worth of credits, which equals 16 credits total.

31 to 42: In this age group, you usually need 20 credits earned within the past 10 years before your disability.

43 to 61: This group follows the same math as the 31-to-42-year-old group, but adds an extra credit for every year after age 42. That means that, at age 44, you would need 20 credits plus two for the two years between 44 and 42, for a total of 22 credits.

62 and older: Anyone 62 or older typically needs 40 credits earned within the past 10 to 15 years before their disability.

Help from an Indiana Social Security Disability Attorney

If you’re thinking of applying for Social Security disability, but you aren’t sure whether or not you have enough work credits, Hensley Legal Group can help. Our disability attorneys can help no matter where you are in your case, whether you’re filing an initial application or preparing for a final hearing. Call Hensley Legal Group today or contact us online for a free consultation.