Social Security Disability (SSD) is supposed to be there for anyone who develops a serious disability or illness that prevents them from working anymore. However, actually qualifying for this vital program can be a complicated, time-consuming process. Most initial applications get turned down, requiring applicants to appeal.
If you are curious about how to qualify for SSD benefits, here is a brief overview. The main factors are:
- Having a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability
- Having sufficient work history
To determine if an applicant is disabled for SSD purposes, SSA uses a five-part test:
- Is the person currently earning more than a certain amount of income ($1,470 per month for most disabled people, or $2,460 if you are blind)?
- Is the person’s condition “severe” — does it limit their ability to do work-related tasks like standing, walking, sitting and lifting for at least 12 months?
- Is the person’s condition included in SSA’s list of qualifying medical conditions?
- Does the person’s condition prevent them from doing their previous work?
- If not, does the person’s condition, age, education, skills and job history allow them to do any other kind of work?
If the SSA determines that you have a severe condition, are not currently earning a liveable income, and do not expect to earn more for at least one year, you will likely be considered disabled.
Qualifying work history
The years you spent working qualifying jobs under SSA rules add up to a certain number of credits. You earn up to four credits per year of work, based on how much you earned. The bar is fairly low. For 2023, earning $1,640 in wages or self-employed income earns you one credit, and $6,560 gets you the maximum four credits for the year.
Generally, you must have at least 40 work history credits to qualify for SSD. Twenty of those credits must have been earned in the decade before the year you became disabled. But age is a factor too, and younger workers whose careers were interrupted by a medical condition may qualify with fewer than 40 credits.
Improving your chances
Even if you are confident that you qualify for SSD, the amount of paperwork involved and complicated regulations governing the program can make qualifying a challenge. An experienced SSD attorney can help you with your appeal, taking the burden off you and improving your chances of success.