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Disability Insurance - SSDI (Title II) - Eligibility

To become a beneficiary of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), there are three important criteria, each of which is discussed below in this topic. The criteria require you to 1) meet the definition of disability, 2) be a person or family member covered under the law, and 3) have a sufficient work history.

Disability Definition

Itís important that you understand how Social Security defines "disability." Thatís because other programs have different definitions for disability. Some programs pay for partial disability or for short-term disability. Social Security does not.

Disability under Social Security is based on your inability to work. You will be considered disabled if you cannot do work you did before and SSA decides that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s). Your disability also must last or be expected to last for at least a year or to result in death.

See the topic "Disability" for SSA's formal definition of disability.

This is a strict definition of disability. The program assumes that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workersí compensation, insurance, savings and investments.

Eligible Beneficiaries

You can receive Social Security disability benefits until you reach full retirement age. When you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

Certain members of your family may qualify for benefits on your record. They include:

           Your spouse, if he or she is age 62 or older.

           Your spouse (who may be any age), if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is under age 16 or disabled and also receiving checks.

           Your disabled widow or widower, who is age 50 or older. The disability must have started before your death or within seven years after your death. (If your widow or widower caring for your children receives Social Security checks, she or he is eligible if she or he becomes disabled before those payments end or within seven years after they end.)

           Your unmarried son or daughter, who may be an adopted child. (Or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild.) The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in high school full time.

           Your unmarried son or daughter, who is age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. These children are considered disabled if they meet the adult definition of disability. (If a disabled child under age 18 is receiving benefits as the dependent of a retired, deceased or disabled worker, someone should contact Social Security to have his or her checks continued at age 18 on the basis of disability.)

Work Credits Required

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have worked long enough and recently enough under Social Security. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits per year, one for each quarter of the year you worked. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise. Family members who qualify for benefits on your work record do not need work credits.

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you became disabled. Generally you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you became disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. The rules are as follows:

           Before age 24: You may qualify if you have six credits earned in the three-year period ending when your disability starts.

           Age 24 to 31: You may qualify if you have credit for having worked half the time between 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for three years of work (12 credits) out of the past six years (between age 21 and age 27).

           Age 31 or older: In general, you will need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart shown below. Unless you are blind, at least 20 of the credits must have been earned in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.


Born After 1929, Become Disabled At Age

Credits You Need

31 through 42




















62 or older



See Also:

Social Security Administration online Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST) logoThe Social Security Administration operates an online Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST) that can help you determine if you are eligible for Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), and other programs. If you are connected to the Internet, go to:

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