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SSDI: Eligibility Requirements


In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits:

  • You must be a qualifying worker or appropriate family member of such a worker.
  • You must be unable to do "Substantial Gainful Activity" because of your health condition. You can work and earn up to a limited amount of money each month and still be considered to be "disabled" for purposes of SSDI.
  • There must be a sufficient amount of work history which is measured in terms of "work credits."
  • You must have earned the work credits or have the appropriate relationship to a person who has.
  • You must file the claim within a period of time, generally within five (5) years since the last quarter when you worked and FICA taxes were paid. ("Date Last Insured.")

The amount of your other income and/or assets don't matter. This is not the case with other government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Workers Compensation insurance.

Unable To Work Because Of Your Health Condition

In order to qualify for SSDI, you must be unable to work or only able to do a limited amount of work that doesn't amount to what Social Security refers to as "Substantial Gainful Activity" (SGA). The SGA amount varies from year to year.

The inability to work must be because your physical or mental condition (or a combination of the two) keeps you from working or from earning the Substantial Gainful Activity amount..

The inability to work must be ongoing. There must be an expectation that you will not be able to work because of the effects of your health condition, and that the inability to work has lasted, or is expected to last for at least a year, or to end in death.

A diagnosis alone is not enough to qualify for SSDI except in a very few instances where you are automatically assumed to be disabled. For most people, it's more about the inability to work because of the effect of the health condition.

It is up to you to convince Social Security that you are "disabled" to the degree that you should receive disability payments. This doesn't mean that you have to be unable to function totally. You only have to fit Social Security's definition of "disability."

The more work limitations you have, both physical and psychological, the more likely you will be found to be disabled for purposes of Social Security. For instance, depression, which accompanies most health conditions, can by iteslf be considered to be a disabling condition.

To be considered to be "disabled", you are expected to follow prescribed treatment.

Work History Required To Qualify For SSDI

There needs to be a long enough work history to qualify for SSDI because the right to an SSDI benefit is earned by contributing enough money to the program through FICA payments.

Whether you have contributed enough is determined by the amount of time you paid into the program ("Work history"). Work history is measured in terms of "work credits." If you're short a few work credits, you can get a full year of credits (4 credits) in one quarter.

Generally the work requirement is a minimum of 10 years.

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