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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are determined by how many work credits you have earned and how long you have worked. You need at least 40 credits, with 20 earned in the last ten years. The number of credits to qualify for benefits can vary depending on your age when you become disabled. Meeting the work credit requirement is just one of several eligibility criteria for SSDI. You must also have a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability that is expected to last for at least twelve months or result in death.
Generally, you earn up to four credits per year toward SSDI benefits depending on your age. These are some rough estimates:
- Under 24 – You must have six credits in the three years ending when your disability began.
- Ages 24 to 31– You need to have earned credits for half the time between the age of 21 and when you became disabled.
- 31 or Older – You’ll need at least 20 credits in the ten years immediately before becoming disabled.
However, the number of credits you need may vary. It’s best to consult with a disability attorney in your state.
Working While Applying for SSDI
You can work and apply for SSDI benefits at the same time. However, there are limits on how much you can earn while receiving SSDI benefits. If your earnings exceed a certain limit, called “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), The Social Security Administration (SSA) may discontinue your SSDI benefits.
For 2023, the SGA limit for a non-blind individual is $1,470 per month, and the limit for a blind individual is $2,460 per month. If you are earning less than the SGA limit, your benefits may still receive a reduction based on other factors, such as the amount of income you are receiving from other sources. Reductions may also occur depending on the value of any goods or services you receive and any changes in your living arrangement.
Furthermore, if you are receiving SSDI benefits, the SSA will periodically review your case to determine whether you are still disabled and eligible for benefits. If you can return to work, the SSA may discontinue your benefits. Medical advances, therapies, and technologies have improved, providing more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in the workforce.
Qualifying for SSDI
While there are special considerations and variable eligibility criteria for the blind, widows or widowers of workers, veterans, and children with disabilities, the state agency makes decisions using five questions in a specific order.
In order these questions are:
- Are you Currently Working? If the answer is yes, and on average, you earn over a certain monthly figure, you will generally not be considered to have a disability. This dollar amount changes annually and is the SGA portion of qualifiers for SSDI. The state agency moves to evaluation question two if you earn less than this SGA threshold.
- What is the Severity of Your Medical Condition? The SSA’s definition of having a disability means your ability to do basic work activities experiences significant limitations for a minimum of twelve months. These limitations include walking, standing, sitting, remembering, and lifting. If you don’t experience these limitations in your condition, the SSA won’t consider you disabled.
- Does Your Medical Condition Meet or Medically Equal an SSA Listing? The SSA compiles a list of medical conditions it deems severe enough to prevent someone from working. The SSA consults with medical professionals to create this list of conditions. The state determines if you have a disability that meets or is equal in severity and duration using this list. If not, the state continues to question four.
- Can you Perform the Work you did Before? This evaluation stage determines if you can perform any of your past work, given your current medical situation. If you can, the state determines you don’t have an SSDI-qualifying disability. If you can’t perform duties of past work activities due to your medical situation, the evaluation moves to question five.
- Can you Perform any Other Type of Work? This final evaluation question determines if the state considers you able to perform other types of work based on age, education, skills, and past work experience. If the SSA finds you are capable of performing other work, you won’t qualify for SSDI. If the determination finds you can’t do other work, you will have an SSA-qualifying disability.
The SSA understands that self-employed individuals who do odd jobs, freelance gigs, contract, or work for cash without receipts often adjust their hours or income to appear as though they aren’t substantially employed. If you are self-employed, the SSA uses three tests other than the SGA limit to determine eligibility:
- Significant Services and Substantial Income Test
- Comparability Test
- Countable Income Test
Assessing the Risks of Working
A disability attorney can help you understand your specific work situation as it relates to qualifying for SSDI. If you are over the SGA threshold while waiting for disability benefits, you risk receiving a denial by the SSA immediately. Suppose you have trouble making ends meet while waiting for your disability determination. In that case, you may apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which moves more quickly through the determination process and can provide you with benefits while you wait for SSDI approval.
Why a Disability Attorney Helps
There are many things to consider when trying to qualify for SSDI benefits. Employment history and earnings are significant in the approval process. You are entitled to representation, and your disability attorney can provide legal guidance throughout the SSDI application process. Your disability lawyer can also represent you in the event of an initial denial of benefits. Receiving an initial benefits denial is common, and submitting the necessary information on strict appeals timelines is crucial. When you start receiving SSDI benefits, your attorney may continue to advise you regarding changes in earning amounts (SGA) and federal programs that may impact your continued benefit qualification. Before you begin applying for SSDI, speak to a disability attorney. We invite you to contact our offices in Midway, Erie, and Franklin PA to learn more about your options.