You can still receive disability benefits if you haven’t worked in years, but there is a limit to how long your employment can lapse. In general, you must have earned at least 20 work credits in the ten years immediately before the onset of your disability.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), 20 credits equals five years of work. Therefore, in general, to have enough credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have worked five out of the past ten years. Younger workers need fewer credits.
How Do You Earn Work Credits?
You earn work credits through contributions to the Social Security fund via taxes on your income. The amount of wages or self-employment income needed to earn a work credit changes each year. According to the SSA, in 2022, you need $1,510 to earn one credit. You can earn a maximum of four credits annually, which amounts to $6,040.
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What if I Don’t Have Enough Credits or Have Not Worked in Ten Years?
Suppose you do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. In that case, you may be eligible for disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
SSI is needs-based and does not rely on work credits. Instead, this program is available to individuals with minimal income or resources. A resource is anything that you can turn into cash, including property, stocks, bonds, and life insurance.
What Else Do You Need to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
When you apply for either SSDI or SSI, you will need to prove that you have a medical condition that is disabling and has lasted (or is expected to last) at least one year. Qualifying conditions are listed in the Blue Book and include but are not limited to:
- Skin disorders
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Chronic heart problems
- Loss of hearing or speech
- Visual impairments and blindness
- Cystic fibrosis
- Kidney disease
- Sickle cell disease
- Endocrine disorders
- Mental disorders
- Neurological disorders
- Autoimmune disorders
The SSA will need to order medical records to show that you have an eligible ailment. Make sure the information you supply is accurate and as up-to-date as possible. You may need to submit information about where to obtain:
- Doctors’ notes
- A history of surgeries and medical procedures
- Treatment plans
- X-ray, CT scan, and MRI results
- Blood work and other lab test results
- Hospitalization records
- Lists of medications
You Will Need to Provide Evidence of Your Finances
In addition to work credits, the SSA will also consider your ability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). According to the SSA, the SGA limit for 2022 is set at $1,350. Therefore, if you can perform work that earns more than the SGA limit, you may not qualify for benefits. The SGA also applies to those seeking SSI.
To prove you have enough earned work credits for SSDI and that you do not exceed the SGA limit, you will need to provide financial documents with your application, including:
- Pay stubs
- Settlement agreements
- Proof of workers’ compensation or other benefits
- A completed Adult Disability Report
Additionally, you will need to provide documents that prove you are a United States citizen, such as an original birth certificate or proof of lawful alien status. You will also need to ensure your contact information is correct and current so the SSA knows how to notify you of its decision.
You Can Receive Both Monthly Payments and Back Pay
How much disability you receive monthly depends on your work history and current ability to earn wages. Therefore, everyone’s benefits will vary. However, the SSA reports the average disability payment was around $1,200 per month in 2019. This amount can make a big difference for those unable to work or who have been out of work for an extended time.
If you haven’t worked in years because of a disability but delayed seeking benefits, you may qualify for back pay. Back payments compensate for the time between when you became disabled and when you first applied for benefits. However, note that you generally cannot seek more than 12 months of back pay.
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How Can a Disability Attorney with Our Firm Help?
A disability attorney with Berger and Green can evaluate your Social Security Disability application. If the SSA has denied you benefits due to a lack of work credits, insufficient medical evidence, or an application error, we can help you with an appeal. We can also:
- Identify application errors or missing evidence regarding your work history
- Prove you have earned enough credits during the past ten years
- Advise you of other benefit options if your work credits are insufficient
- File your appeal
- Obtain needed medical and financial documents
- Represent you throughout the appeals process
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Reach out to Berger and Green for a free consultation and learn more about how our Social Security disability attorneys can serve you.