Qualifying for disability benefits has many layers. Among those, you will have to prove an extensive work history in jobs that deducted payroll taxes for Social Security. The Social Security Administration measures this with something known as “work credits.”
But what are they, and how do you know if you have enough of them? There are several ways to find out.
What Counts as a Work Credit?
If you work at a job where you pay Social Security taxes, then you earn work credits. You pay Social Security taxes so you can receive benefits when you retire, but also in case you become disabled. The SSA tracks the money you’ve paid into Social Security throughout your life in the form of work credits.
Before 1978, employers reported earnings to the SSA every three months, so work credits are determined on a quarterly system. However, starting in 1978, employers could report your earnings only once a year. That means you now get quarterly credits based on your total yearly wages, regardless of when you earn them.
How Does Anyone Earn Them?
You can earn up to four credits per year, or one per quarter. Though, as mentioned above, you could earn enough for four credits in one quarter, or it could take all year. Either way, the maximum number of credits you may earn annually is four.
As general wage levels rise each year, the amount of earnings it takes to garner a work credit increases as well. In 2022, you must earn $1,510 in covered earnings to get one Social Security credit. That means to get all four work credits, you must show $6,040 in earnings for the year.
How Many Work Credits Must I Have to Qualify for Disability?
For most adults, you must first show covered earnings for five of the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled. That would give you the 20 quarterly work credits needed to pass the recent work test. Younger disabled workers may qualify with less, but the absolute minimum for a Social Security Disability Insurance claim is six work credits.
In general, here are the recent work test rules:
- Before age 24: You must earn six credits during the three years ending when your disability begins.
- Age 24 to 31: You need credit for working half the time between turning 21 and the year you become disabled. For example: If you apply at 27, you need 12 credits earned in the past six years to qualify.
- Age 31+: In general, you need at least 20 credits earned in the 10 years right before you become too disabled to keep working.
However, the total number of work credits you need for SSDI depends on your age. To pass the duration work test, federal law requires you work at least one-fourth of your adult life. Again, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.
How Can I Calculate the Number I Need Personally?
There are couple ways to determine the amount of work credits you need to qualify for SSDI.
One trick is to subtract the year you turned 22 from the year you became disabled. For example, if you are 50 years old and became disabled in 2022, the equation would be:
2022-1994 = 28
In that case, you need 28 total work credits over the course of your working life to qualify for SSDI. And remember 20 of those work credits must be in the last 10 years to satisfy the “recent work test.”
Or, if math isn’t your thing, you can also check out this handy chart created by the SSA.
Where Can I Find Out How Many Work Credits I Have?
If you want to know exactly how many work credits you have, check with the SSA directly.
One option? Pick up your phone. You can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 M-F, 7am-8pm EST. Ask them to look up your work credits using your Social Security number (SSN).
Or consider setting up a MySocialSecurity account online. The SSA is going green, and this is a terrific environmentally-friendly way to keep track of your covered earnings — whether you’re applying for SSDI or not!
However, if you are looking to file for SSDI, you can check your work credits online through this portal. To set one up, you’ll just need an Internet connection, your SSN, a valid email address, and a U.S. mailing address.
After agreeing to the terms of service, you’ll be asked to create a username and password. Then you’ll be prompted to provide a second valid form of identification such as your cell phone number. This is required for the 2-step verification process used to protect your personal information each time you log in.
Once you have access to your new online account, you’ll be able to easily view your work credits online anytime. This will help you determine if the number is sufficient to move forward with an SSDI benefit application.
If you think you qualify, but still have questions, also consider scheduling a free consultation with a Social Security disability attorney. Because determining work credits is only part of the journey to getting SSDI benefits!
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