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What are the Social Security Disability Requirements?

What are the Social Security Disability Requirements?

If you suffer from a debilitating injury or condition, you’ve probably wanted to know the answer to one important question: what are the Social Security Disability requirements? Though you may think it’s pretty cut and dry, the Social Security Disability criteria can be somewhat complex. Your eligibility will depend on your age, citizenship status, work history, income, and the type and severity of your disability.

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So, what medical conditions qualify for Social Security Disability? How old do I need to be to apply? And finally, what other factors will affect my Social Security Disability eligibility? Though the process of applying and getting accepted for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be complex, there are four basic requirements to qualify. So, let’s take a closer look at each Social Security Disability requirement: 

Social Security Disability requirements

Social Security Disability eligibility

Your disability is the single most important requirement for SSDI. The type of condition, as well as the severity of your condition, can affect whether your application gets accepted or denied. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

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So, if you have a short-term injury that limits your ability to do certain work-related activities for a few days, weeks, or months, you likely won’t qualify for SSDI. Social Security Disability is reserved for people whose condition prevents them from doing their jobs for one year or more. Thus, most short-term (less than one year) disabilities won’t qualify.

What medical conditions qualify for Social Security Disability?

There are 14 categories of disabilities that qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance:

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  • Musculoskeletal System
  • Special Senses and Speech
  • Respiratory Disorders
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Digestive System
  • Genitourinary Disorders
  • Hematological Disorders
  • Skin Disorders
  • Endocrine Disorders
  • Congenital Disorders (affecting multiple body systems)
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Mental Disorders
  • Cancer
  • Immune System Disorders

*For children with disabilities, there is one additional category: Low Birth Weight and Failure to Thrive. You can find the full Social Security Disability list of impairments for adults and children on the SSA website.

Who determines if my condition meets the Social Security Disability requirements?

Once you apply for SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your eligibility will be processed through one or more local Social Security field offices. Your case could also be handled by your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency. If your initial application is denied, appeals will be sent to the SSA’s Office of Hearing Operations.

However, these agencies only determine if your condition meets the requirements for Social Security Disability eligibility. Before applying for SSDI or SSI, you will need to be diagnosed with a qualifying disability by a licensed health professional. In most cases, your physician will need to provide evidence and documentation of your disability as part of your application. The local SSA office or DDS will reach out to you or your doctor if additional documentation is required.

However, Social Security Disability eligibility is not just determined by your condition. The appropriate agencies will also look at your work history when you apply for SSDI. 

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SSDI work history

SSDI work history eligibility

While SSI does not have any work history requirements, SSDI does. Depending on your age and the time at which you became disabled, you will need to have accumulated a certain number of work credits to qualify for SSDI. Here’s the most up-to-date Social Security Disability age chart:

Age you became disabledApproximate years of work required
28 or younger1.5
30
343
384
425
445.5
466
486.5
507
527.5
548
568.5
589
60 or older9.5

While the chart above shows the approximate number of work years required to qualify for SSDI, the SSA calculates your eligibility based on work credits. The numbers change a little each year, but as of 2020, you accumulate 1 work credit per $1,410 of earned income. You can earn a maximum of 4 work credits per year. 

So, if you become disabled when you’re 44, you’ll need to have worked for about 5.5 years, which equals about 22 work credits. The maximum number of work credits required by anyone is 40, half of which must have been earned within the 10 years prior to your disability.

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There are some exceptions for younger adults who become disabled. Additionally, children who become disabled can qualify for SSDI benefits without a work history. You can learn more about these exceptions on the SSA website.

SSDI income requirement

SSDI income eligibility

Many people don’t realize that you can still work and meet the Social Security Disability requirements. However, SSDI sets a cap on the amount you can make from gainful employment each month. As of 2020, you cannot earn more than $1,260 per month from your job and receive SSDI benefits.

It’s important to note that this cap only accounts for income from “gainful employment.” In other words, you can’t make more than $1,260 per month from a traditional job if you want to qualify for SSDI. However, you can earn income from other sources and it won’t count toward the monthly cap. For example, SSDI does not factor in a spouse’s income, earnings from investments, interest from savings, or any other financial assets.

Social Security citizenship requirements

SSDI citizenship eligibility

In most cases, you will need to show proof that you are either a legal U.S. citizen or a permanent resident to qualify for SSDI. However, foreign workers can also qualify for SSDI under most circumstances. In fact, as long as you have been working legally, paid taxes into the Social Security system, and met all of the requirements listed above, you will likely qualify for SSDI, regardless of your country of origin.

Bottom Line

You may think that the Social Security Disability requirements are too stringent, but they work to ensure that the benefits only go to those who struggle to work due to a medical condition. If you suffer from a condition that makes it difficult or impossible to work, consider applying for SSDI. Even if you don’t have Social Security Disability eligibility, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If you have more questions about Social Security Disability Insurance, be sure to check out our guide on everything you need to know about SSDI!

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Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy. You can check out his blog at Philosophy in Film.