In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, a claimant must have earned enough work credits in the past. Work credits are earned income for each year. The general rule of thumb is that you must have earned 20 work credits in the past ten years; in other words, you must have worked five out of the past ten years in order to quality for SSDI. It is possible to earn a maximum of four work credits per year. The amount of earnings necessary to earn credits raises each year in accordance with increases with average earnings levels.
In 2011, one work credit is earned for each $1,120 of earnings made by the claimant.
Credits earned are permanent and stay on one’s earning record. However, a set amount of work credits need to have been earned in the immediate past years before a claimant becomes disabled in order to stay eligible for disability benefits. Work credits can expire! Once you stop working, you have five years to apply for disability benefits before you will become uninsured for SSDI.
Work credits also depend on an applicant’s age. For claimants who are found to be disabled prior to the age of 24, he or she must have earned six credits in the three years before being found disabled. If a claimant is found disabled between the age of 24 and 30, credits for half the time between the age of 21 and 30 are needed to be eligible for SSDI benefits. If a claimant is disabled at age 31 or older, the applicant needs at least 20 credits in the ten years immediately before being found disabled; again, this means that one must have worked at least 5 out of the 10 years immediately before the onset of their disability.
Some exceptions to the work credit rules apply. For applicants who are in the military, work credits are earned in the same manner as those who work in non-military roles; however, additional credits can also be earned under specific conditions. Similarly, mothers who have no earnings while caring for a child under the age of 3 can qualify for work credits during these years. Claimants who are employed in farm work or domestic work can also earn work credits under different rules, as can applicants who work for a church or church-controlled organization that do not pay into Social Security taxes. Benefits can also be collected by the survivors of a disabled applicant, even if the payee does not have enough work credits under their own records—the benefits will be calculated using the work credits of the deceased applicant.