SSDI Work Credits: What Are They?

In order to be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in Massachusetts and other states around the country, you must be able to demonstrate that you meet the work history requirements established by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You must have worked, and paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes, for a certain length of time over the course of your life. The SSA assigns “work credits” to people, which enable it to determine whether a claimant is eligible for benefits. The number of work credits a claimant needs varies based on age. The SSA periodically adjusts annually the income requirements necessary to earn a quarter of coverage.

How the SSA Measures Work Time

The SSA measures people’s work history in three-month periods known as “quarters.” These are the same quarters used in business planning and accounting, with January through March being the first quarter of the calendar year, and October through December being the fourth.

People receive “work credits,” also known as “quarters of coverage” or “QCs,” from the SSA for each quarter they work and earn above a certain amount. They may receive a maximum of four work credits per calendar year. The maximum number a person will need over their lifetime is 40 work credits, or 10 years of qualifying work. Claimants can demonstrate their work and payroll tax history with copies of tax documents such as a Form W-2.

How the SSA Measures Income

Employers report their employees’ income to the SSA once a year. Income information for a calendar year is typically due to the SSA by January 31 of the following year, the same time the company must send out W-2s and other tax forms. People earn work credits for work that is compensated by taxable wages, on which they pay payroll taxes. This applies to both employed and self-employed workers.

The minimum earning amount required to obtain a work credit changes over time with cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). In 2015, a person must earn at least $1,220 to receive one work credit. Since the SSA only requires annual reporting of income, the number of credits a person receives is based on the total amount earned for the year. If a person earns $2,440 during the year, they will receive two work credits, even if they earned all of that amount during one quarter. If they earned $4,880 or more, they will receive the maximum of four work credits for the year.

How Your Age Affects the Number of Credits Needed

The total number of quarters a claimant needs to be eligible for SSDI benefits depends on their age at the time they become disabled. The SSA divides claimants into three age groups:  claimants who became disabled when they were (1) under the age of 24, (2) at least 24 but less than 31 years of age, and (3) 31 years of age or older. The criteria are generally based on an assumption that people start working at the age of 21.

The eligibility criteria are somewhat different for people claiming SSDI due to blindness.

Credits Needed for SSDI Benefits

A claimant in the first age group, who became disabled before turning 24 years old, must have accrued a minimum of six work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits.

People in the second group, ages 24 to 30, must have at least one-half of the total amount of credits they could have earned from the time they turned 21 until the time they became disabled. A person who becomes disabled at age 25, for example, could have four years of work history since age 21, or 16 work credits. To qualify for SSDI, they would need at least eight work credits. A person who becomes disabled at 30 could have 36 work credits for nine years of work history, and would therefore need 18 work credits for SSDI.

For people who were 31 to 42 years old at the time they became disabled, the minimum number of work credits required is 20.

Over the age of 42, the minimum number of credits increases by two every two years until age 62. People who become disabled at age 43 or 44 must have at least 22 work credits, and people age 45 or 46 must have 24. At age 62, the required number of work credits reaches its overall maximum of 40.

You can get started on your SSDI claim by scheduling a free and confidential consultation with the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith. Contact us today at 1-800-773-8622.

Web Resources:

How You Earn Credits (PDF file), Social Security Administration Publication No. 05-10072, 2015

More Blog Posts:

Requesting Reconsideration of an Application for SSDI in Maine and Elsewhere, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2015

Lawmakers Must Act to Prevent Depletion of SSDI Trust Fund in 2016, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2015

How to Apply for SSDI Benefits in Maine and Beyond, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2015

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