By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

If you have had to stop working due to a severe medical condition, you may be able to qualify for Social Security disability benefits through either the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, eligibility requirements differ between these two programs in terms of how your age and employment history are evaluated.

Understanding Work Credits for SSDI

SSDI is a federal insurance program funded through payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers. In order to be considered fully insured and eligible, you must have paid into the system and accumulated a sufficient number of work credits over your career.

Work credits are based on your total wages or self-employment income during years when you had substantial earnings covered by Social Security taxes. The amount needed for a work credit increases slightly each year, for example:

  • In 2023, you earn one credit for every $1,640 in covered earnings, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year after $6,560.
  • In 2022, one credit was awarded for every $1,510 in covered earnings.
  • In 2021, one credit equaled $1,470 in covered earnings.

The number of work credits needed to qualify for SSDI benefits depends on your age when you became disabled. Typically:

  • Those disabled before age 24 may qualify with as few as 6 credits earned in the 3 years before disability.
  • If disabled between ages 24-31, you’d likely need credits for half the time since age 21.
  • From age 31-42, credits would be needed for half the years between 21 and the age disability began.
  • For those over 42, credits for 5 of the last 10 years are usually sufficient.

The older you are, the more work credits are generally required to remain fully insured for SSDI up until retirement age. However, there are special rules allowing applicants disabled very early in their careers to qualify with far fewer credits.

The Role of Your Age 

In addition to examining your work credit history, your current age at the disability onset date is also a key factor for SSDI determinations. Social Security uses different medical and vocational criteria to evaluate disability claims for three distinct age groups:

  • Younger Person (under age 50): Harder to prove disability in this range as SSA assesses ability to adapt to other work.
  • Approaching Advanced Age (50-54): More weight given to work history and diminished ability to switch careers.
  • Advanced Age (55+): More favorable determinations as even less demanding jobs may be deemed unfeasible.

SSI and Age/Work History 

In contrast, SSI disability benefits are a need-based welfare program for those with limited income and assets. To be approved for SSI, you do not need to have paid any Social Security taxes through prior employment.

Your work history and number of credits have no bearing on SSI financial eligibility. However, being engaged in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) earning over a certain threshold ($1,470/month in 2023) can make you ineligible regardless of your age. The Social Security Administration only evaluates your current household’s income level and assets against the SSI program’s strict financial limits.

For those 50 and over, age can improve your chances of SSI approval, as there is a higher degree of flexibility in evaluating your ability to adapt to different work environments. SSA considers advancing age and less transferable skills in these situations.

Why Consult a Disability Lawyer

Whether you’re pursuing SSDI, SSI or potentially both types of claims, the rules around age, work credits and insured status are quite confusing and complex. An experienced disability lawyer can accurately determine what type of disability benefits you may qualify for based on your specific circumstances.

A skilled attorney can properly assess your employment records, calculate credits, advise on age considerations, and advocate persuasively for your approval at all stages of the process. Having expert legal representation gives you the best possible chance of securing the monthly SSDI or SSI payments you need if you’ve been forced to stop working due to disability.

Disability law firms provide free case evaluations, allowing you to explore your rights, approval prospects and options at no risk. Don’t face the Social Security Administration alone – having professional legal counsel on your side can make all the difference in your case’s outcome.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals in Florida obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.