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Determining Financial Eligibility for SSDI

Jacques Chambers, CLU, Benefits Consultant

Social Security offers two plans that provide income to a disabled worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs based program that requires proof of limited income and resources in order to qualify for benefits.
Social Security Disability (SSDI or SSD), and sometimes called Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), also has financial requirements, however, since SSD is an entitlement program its financial requirements are based on whether you paid into the system adequately enough to be eligible for disability benefits. SSD is only available to you if you are disabled and if you meet the one financial eligibility requirement: Did you pay Social Security payroll taxes (F.I.C.A.) long enough and recently enough to qualify?

Social Security doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor or what your resources or other income is; as long as you meet the one financial requirement and are considered disabled, you are eligible for SSD benefits. If Bill Gates or The Donald became disabled, they would be eligible for SSD benefits.

The Easy Way to Determine Financial Eligibility
Once a year, about three months before your birthday, Social Security sends everyone over age 25 a summary of their total earnings by year and shows the amount of FICA taxes paid. It also estimates what your retirement and disability benefit would be. If you have not paid into the system enough to qualify for disability benefits, the statement will say so. If you tossed it, you may order another.

The easiest way to check your financial eligibility is to request a Summary of Earnings and Benefits. You can obtain a request form as well as apply on-line at and click on: “How To Request a Social Security Statement of Earnings and Benefits.”

You may also obtain a form to request the Statement at any Social Security office and most post offices. Ask for: “Request for Social Security Statement (SSA-7004).”

SSD Financial Eligibility Rules
Like all government programs, the rules for determining financial eligibility can get very involved, but the average worker need not worry about the complicated details.

If Your Employment Was Full-Time and Steady…
If you have been employed on a full-time basis, fairly continuously, the following determines your financial eligibility:

If you become disabled before age 24, you generally need to have paid F.I.C.A. payroll taxes in six calendar quarters during the three-year period ending when your disability begins.
If you're between the ages of 24 through 30, you generally need to have paid payroll taxes for half of the period between age 21 and the time you become disabled.
If you're disabled at age 31 or older, you need to have paid F.I.C.A. payroll taxes in the number of calendar quarters shown in the following table. Also, at least 20 those calendar quarters have to have occurred within the 10 years (40 quarters) immediately before you became disabled.

Disabled At Age Quarters Needed
31 through 42 20
43-44 22
45-46 24
47-48 26
49-50 28
51-52 30
53-54 32
55-56 34
57-58 36
59-60 38
61 or older 40

For example, if you are 44 years old, and you have been working steadily and paying F.I.C.A. taxes since you were 20, you ARE ELIGIBLE for SSD benefits if you are disabled since you have well over 22 quarters including the most recent 40 quarters.

Another example: You become disabled at age 50. For the past 6 years you were a school teacher and did not pay F.I.C.A. payroll taxes. Before that you worked in private industry and paid F.I.C.A. taxes for over 20 years. You ARE NOT ELIGIBLE for SSD benefits. Although you paid F.I.C.A. taxes for more than the 28 quarters required, only 16 (4 years) of the quarters were paid in the last ten years instead of the required 20. (You will still be eligible for retirement benefits beginning at age 62, however.)

If Your Employment Was Part-Time or Irregular…
Social Security actually measures what they call “work credits” rather than actual calendar quarters in determining eligibility. So if some of your work history was part-time or your income otherwise low, then you need to know how much you actually earned or how much you paid in payroll taxes.

1 work credit equals one calendar quarter as long as you earned the minimum required earnings for that quarter. You can earn up to 4 work credits each calendar year.

The minimum amount of earnings changes each year. Below is a table that shows the minimum quarterly earnings required for each quarter to count as 1 work credit.


You don’t have to work in all four calendar quarters of that year to get 4 work credits, as long as your earnings in that year are four times the quarterly minimum for that year or greater. However, you can never earn more than 4 work credits in any one calendar year.

If You Are a Veteran of the Military…
Veterans of the military are eligible to receive extra work credits based on their active duty:

Period When On Active Duty Extra Amount Counted Toward Work Credit As If It Were Earned Wages
Between 09-01-1940 and 12-31-1956 $160 for each month of active duty
Between 01-01-1957 and 12-31-1977 $300 for each quarter of active duty
01-01-1978 and After $100 for each $300 of actual military pay up to a maximum extra credit of $1,200 per year

All these rules may seem daunting, but remember, if you have worked most of your adult life and paid F.I.C.A. through your paycheck, chances are you will be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) if you become unable to work. If there is any doubt about your financial eligibility, start the application process anyway. Social Security will advise you early in the process if there is a problem.

Confused about applying for disability? Click here

[Jacques Chambers, CLU, and his company, Chambers Benefits Consulting, have over 35 years of experience in health, life and disability insurance and Social Security disability benefits. For the past twelve years, he has been assisting people with their rights, problems, and other issues concerning benefits and disability. He can be reached at or through his website at:]

Copyright August 2004– AttorneyMind - All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint is granted and encouraged with credit to the AttorneyMind.

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