2005-04-29 / Community

Social Security And You

Requirements For SS Disability Benefits
By James Glasser, Manager, Far Rockaway Social Security Center


James Glasser
James Glasser If you were suddenly to become disabled through an accident or illness, do you know if you would qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

While most people are aware of the basic requirements for Social Security retirement benefits, I think far fewer understand how — or if — they would qualify for disability benefits.

In addition to meeting the Social Security medical definition of disability, you also must have worked long enough and, unless you are blind, you must have worked recently enough under Social Security to qualify. Some people who may think they are eligible actually aren’t.

Here is a quick checklist you can use to see where you stand.

Eligibility for disability benefits is based on your Social Security work credits, which are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits each year. The amount needed for a credit changes from year to year. In 2005, for example, you earn one credit for each $920 earned; when you’ve earned $3,680, you would have your four credits for the year.

The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled:

Before age 24 — You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.

Age 24 to 31 — You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).

Age 31 or older – In most cases, from age 31 through age 42, you would need 20 work credits. The number of credits needed between age 43 and age 62 or older rises each year. For example, at age 44 you would need 22 work credits, and at age 46 you would need 24 credits. There is a convenient chart which shows the credits needed at just a glance. It is located at www. socialse urity.gov/ dibplan/ dqualify3.htm. Also, once you are age 31 or older, unless you are blind, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.

The Social Security Statement that you receive each year is a good way to monitor your eligibility. The Statement shows all earnings reported to date, and also provides an estimate of the benefits for which you are eligible. Review this statement carefully to be sure it reflects all your earnings, and notify Social Security right away if you find errors or omissions.

While most people who work regularly will not have a problem keeping their disability coverage current, people who move in and out of the workforce, or in and out of covered employment, may not be covered.

The importance of having Social Security disability insurance protection is underscored by one statistic: there is a nearly 3 in 10 chance that a 20-year old will become disabled before reaching retirement age.

For more information on the Social Security disability program and both medical and work requirements, you can visit our website at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), and ask for the Social Security pamphlet, “How You Earn Credits.”

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