Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the benefit that you pay into Social Security while you are working. You have to earn and pay Social Security taxes on a minimum amount of covered work to qualify for SSDI, and this can also apply to retirement benefits. For most people (although it can vary based on age), you have to have 40 work credits to qualify. Social Security work credits are based on how much you earn. The amount of money you need to earn to receive credit can change per year. In 2019, you must earn $1,360 to earn one credit. A maximum of four credits can be earned a year. Therefore, in 2019 if you earn $5,440 during the year and paid Social Security taxes, you have earned your four work credits for the year. The work credits will remain on your record even if you stop working. Some jobs may not be covered by Social Security, such as some government or railroad employees, so be aware your job could be paying into a different system.
How many Social Security Disability Insurance credits you need “depends on how old you are and when you become disabled.” If you become disabled before age 24, you would need six work credits in the three years before you became disabled, to have enough work credits to qualify. If you are 24 to 30 years old, you would “generally need credits for half of the time between age 21 and the time you became disabled.” “If you are disabled at age 31 or older, you generally need at least 20 credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.”
The amount of work credits does not affect the amount of your benefit, it only affects whether you could be eligible or not. Once it is determined you have enough work credits to be eligible, then Social Security will look at whether you can be found disabled under their guidelines. To be disabled under Social Security rules it must be found that “you cannot do the work that you did before;” “you cannot adjust to other work based on your medical condition; your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.”
If you do not have enough work credits to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you have limited income and assets. Supplemental Security Income is an income-based program through Social Security for people who meet the definition of disability under their guidelines but either do not have the work credits to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or their SSDI benefits are low. Supplemental Security Income is funded by general tax revenue and “is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, with little or no income,” helping them with cash to obtain food, clothing, and shelter.