In addition to meeting the requirements to be considered "disabled" by the Social Security Administration (SSA), individuals must also have worked long enough and recently enough to qualify for disability benefits. Each year, a worker can earn a maximum of four Social Security work credits (also called "quarter of coverage"), which are based on a worker's total yearly wages. The number of work credits necessary to qualify for SSDI depends on the age of the disabled individual, but usually this requires a total of 40 credits. In addition, 20 of these credits must have been earned in the ten years preceding the onset of the individual's disability.

How Much Income is Required to Earn a Credit?

The amount required to earn one Social Security work credit (one QC) changes each year. In 2012, a worker earned one work credit for every $1,130 of wages or self-employment income. When the worker earned $4,520, they have capped out at their four credits for the year. The formula for this number is complicated, as it is based on the 1978 amount of $250 multiplied by the ratio of the national wage index for 2010 compared to 1976. If this number is larger than the previous year (in this case 2011), it is the new wage credit requirement. If it is less than the previous year, the previous year's number is used.

SSDI Work Tests

Workers usually must pass two earning tests to qualify for disability benefits. A "recent work" test based on the worker’s age at the time they became disabled; and a "duration of work" test to show that the individual worked long enough under Social Security.

Recent Work Test

The rules for are based on calendar quarters. The first quarter runs January 1 through March 31; the second quarter runs April 1 through June 30; the third quarter runs July 1 through September 30; and the fourth quarter runs October 1 through December 31.

  • If you become disabled in or before the quarter you turn age 24, you usually need 1.5 years of work during the three-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.
  • If you become disabled in the quarter after you turn 24 but before the quarter you turn 31, you most likely need to have worked during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled.
  • If you become disabled in the quarter you turn age 31 or older, you generally need to have worked five years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.

Duration of Work Test

The duration of work test measures calculates how much total work is necessary to qualify for Social Security disability. The total work required changes based on the age that the individual was disabled. For example, someone injured before age 28 generally needs 1.5 years of work, age 38 needs 4 years of work, age 48 needs 6.5 years of work, age 58 needs 9 years of work, and age 60 needs 9.5 years of work. In general, for every two years older you are, you need half a year more of work to remain eligible.

How an Attorney Can Help

As this process is often confusing, and there are many exceptions to the above stated rules and tests, a skilled attorney or other advocate is often necessary to give a worker the best possible chance to be found eligible for disability benefits. If you are denied disability, it is essential to have a social security disability attorney to make sure you have assembled the correct paperwork and built the strongest case to be deemed eligible.

If you are disabled and live in Tennessee, Arkansas, or Mississippi, the Social Security disability lawyers at Morgan & Morgan's Memphis office will be a tireless aid in the process to receive benefits. Do not hesitate to fill out the form on the right for a free consultation.

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