Important: We updated this article in December 2022 to include the most current income limits and other data from the Social Security Administration. Unable to work owing to a long-term physical or mental disability? Don’t let mounting financial stress become another debilitating blow without first exploring if you are eligible for disability.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides modest monthly financial benefits to workers who can no longer support themselves. To be eligible for disability, however, an individual must satisfy certain criteria, as outlined by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to qualify. In fact, according the SSA, the average acceptance rate of initial applications is only 20%. But that shouldn’t stop you from applying. However, it helps to know the requirements in advance to up your chances of receiving benefits.
What Makes Someone Eligible for Disability?
The criteria for being eligible for disability is strict. At a base level, there are three qualifications you must meet:
- You must first have worked in jobs where you paid Social Security payroll taxes.
- You have a long-lasting medical condition that meets the SSA’s definition of disability.
- Your condition renders you incapable of working for a year or more.
In other words, SSDI doesn’t apply for short-term disability claims, workers’ compensation cases, or partial disability. This is a program specifically for adults (ages 18-66) with long-term health issues that force them to stop working. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into the requirements necessary for you to be eligible for disability.
How Much Work Do You Need to Qualify?
Most people who qualify for SSDI have extensive work histories. In fact, federal law requires that SSDI recipients must have worked at least one-fourth of their adult lives (duration) and at least five of the last 10 years (recent). However, for claimants aged 21-31, the SSA adjusts these numbers down slightly.
Research by the SSA shows that most successful SSDI applicants have worked every year since turning 21. And three-quarters of them have worked 80% of those years.
How does the SSA keep track of “qualified” work? The answer is that they record work credits. SSA work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income, though the amount needed for one credit changes annually. In 2023, for every $1,640 in taxable earnings, you earned one Social Security credit. You had to earn $6,560 to get the maximum four credits for the year.
Though you may earn more credits than the max, extra credits won’t enhance your eligibility for SSDI. However, the higher your “working year” earnings, the greater your chances for a larger monthly payment if you do qualify.
Finally, if you earn more than $1,470/month when you apply for SSDI in 2023, the SSA will reject your claim. It will also be harder to prove disability if you’re working in any capacity.
What Counts as a Long-Lasting Disability?
The other large part of being eligible for disability rests on the determination that you have a long-term medical condition. What counts as a long-lasting disability? Well, the official listing of impairments is quite extensive. It includes musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, cancer, speech and sensory impairments, immune system syndromes, and more. Mental and neurological issues are also on the list.
To be eligible for disability, your medical condition must be well-documented. You will need to submit evidence and records showing you get regular, ongoing treatment for your condition(s). Keep in mind that most of the listed impairments are considered permanent or expected to result in death.
If your specific disability isn’t on this listing it doesn’t mean you can’t qualify. However, you will probably have to work a little harder to show why your disability is equally severe. Also remember, in all cases, the evidence must show that the impairment has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
What Other Factors Does the SSA Consider When Determining if You’re Eligible for Disability?
In addition to considering your medical conditions, age, education, and past work experience, the SSA will look for transferable skills. That means, if you can’t do the work you did previously but can do different types of work, you may not be deemed eligible for disability.
There are also special provisions for blindness, and widowers of persons on disability that may differ from the typical criteria. Also, if you’re on disability but then reach full retirement age, your SSDI benefits will automatically convert to retirement benefits, but your payments remain the same.
The bottom line is that the system can be tricky to navigate. And ultimately, the SSA approves less than four out of 10 applications. If you’re thinking of applying for SSDI, a free consultation with a Social Security disability lawyer is a great idea. Especially since studies show that people with representation are 3x more likely to get benefits. An attorney can also potentially shorten the time you’ll wait for your first payment.
Plus, most Social Security disability lawyers work on contingency, meaning you pay nothing out of pocket unless you win. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online SSD benefits evaluation now!
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann