| Read Time: 4 minutes
qualify for social security disability

Our economy is built around individuals entering the workforce and earning money to support themselves. Thankfully, those unable to work due to disability can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. To qualify for SSDI, you must be disabled and have worked a job covered by Social Security for a long enough time. To be eligible for SSI based on a disability, you must have limited income and resources. 

If you need help applying for Social Security benefits or contesting a denial, contact Gerling Law. Our disability attorneys understand that benefits can mean the difference between living independently and affording monthly bills. Our client-first lawyers focus on helping those who have suffered to improve their day-to-day lives. 

What Do You Need to Qualify for Social Security Disability?

To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you have to meet the requirements of the SSDI or SSI programs. Qualifying for SSDI and qualifying for SSI based on disability both start with proving you have a qualifying disability. You can only get SSDI if you have worked enough years in a qualifying job, while you can only get SSI if you have limited income and resources. Many people qualify for both SSDI and SSI.

What Is a Qualifying Disability?

To qualify for SSDI or SSI, you must have a “total” disability. A total disability prevents you from engaging in “substantial gainful activity” and has lasted or is expected to last for one year or longer. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has five questions to determine whether you have a total disability. 

1. Are You Currently Working?

If you are currently working, your work must not qualify as substantial gainful activity, defined by how much you earn monthly. The amount differs if you are legally blind, meaning your vision cannot be corrected to be better than 20/200 in either eye. 

For example, in 2023, a person with normal vision could earn up to $1,470 per month and not be performing substantial gainful activity. That number increases to $1,550 per month in 2024. Someone who is legally blind could earn up to $2,460 in 2023 and $2,590 in 2024 without performing substantial gainful activity.

2. Is Your Condition “Severe”?

The condition preventing you from performing substantial gainful activity must also be severe. A severe disability interferes with your ability to complete basic work activities. Work-related activities vary but include tasks like:

  • Lifting,
  • Standing,
  • Typing,
  • Walking,
  • Sitting, or
  • Remembering.

The aspects of your condition that significantly limit your ability to do your work must last for at least 12 months, not just the condition itself.

3. Is Your Condition an Impairment According to the SSA?

The SSA maintains lists of conditions that typically qualify as total disability. Because children can receive SSI, the SSA maintains lists covering both childhood and adult disorders. 

If you are wondering what conditions qualify for Social Security disability, these lists can provide answers for many situations. Some conditions that qualify as total disabilities may allow you to receive a compassionate allowance (CAL) or a quick disability determination (QDD). These mechanisms expedite the processing of your claim based on a confirmed diagnosis.

4. Can You Perform Your Previous Work?

If you can still do your previous work, with or without reasonable accommodation, you likely do not qualify for Social Security benefits. 

5. Can You Perform Any Other Work?

Finally, you must be unable to do other work that qualifies as substantial gainful activity. This evaluation process considers what you specifically can do in light of your:

  • General health,
  • Medical conditions,
  • Age,
  • Work experience, 
  • Educational background, and 
  • Skillset.

If you cannot reasonably perform any other substantial gainful activity, your disability may qualify for benefits.

How Much Do You Need to Work to Qualify for SSDI?

When you work at a Social Security-covered job, you earn work credits for SSDI and retirement purposes. These credits are also referred to as quarters of coverage (QCs). You can earn up to four credits per year. In 2024, earning one credit requires you to be paid $1,730. So, to earn all four credits, you must make at least $6,920 in 2024.

You generally need to have earned enough overall credits and recent credits to receive SSDI. However, those who are legally blind need only meet the overall credit requirement. For everyone else, how many of each type you need depends on when your disability began. 

In terms of recent credits, you can generally use the following chart:

Age You Became DisabledCredits NeededNumber of Working Years
Before 2463
24 to 306–183–9

If your disability began from 24 to 30, you must have earned credits for half the time from age 21 to when your disability began. You can calculate how many credits you need with the following formula: ((Your Age − 21) ÷ 2) ✕ 4 

In terms of overall credits, you can generally use the following chart:

Age You Became DisabledCredits NeededNumber of Working Years
Before 2861.5

You must meet the higher requirement when there is a discrepancy between the charts. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you must have earned 12 credits in the last 6 years to satisfy the recency test. You disregard that the overall credit chart requires only six. In contrast, if you became disabled at age 42, you must have earned at least 20 credits, and 20 of those credits must have been earned in the past 10 years.

What Is Limited Income for SSI?

SSI income includes:

  • Work earnings;
  • Benefits like SSDI, workers’ compensation, or unemployment;
  • Money from friends or relatives; 
  • Income earned by a spouse or parents you live with, known as deemed income; and
  • Free resources you receive.

Generally, you must receive less than $1,913 per month from a job or $934 per month from non-work sources to have limited income. For combined couples, you must earn less than $2,827 per month from work or $1,391 per month from non-work sources.

What Are Limited Resources for SSI?

For SSI, resources include things you own, like:

  • Property,
  • Investments,
  • Bank accounts,
  • Cash, and
  • Life insurance.

To have limited resources, you cannot own more than $2,000 worth of resources as an individual or $3,000 if a couple. 

Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Disability benefits can mean the difference between making ends meet or being forced to forgo necessities. If you need help determining whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits or are fighting to get them, contact Gerling Law today to learn what we can do for you.

Author Photo

Gayle Gerling Pettinga

Born and raised in Evansville, Gayle is a respected, experienced lawyer and a valued community leader. She graduated near the top of her class at Indiana University’s prestigious Maurer School of Law. She’s practiced law with one of the largest firms in Indianapolis as well as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And that means she knows how big law firms and big companies think and how they operate – and she will put that knowledge to work for you.

Gayle has received numerous awards and honors including Martindale-Hubbell — Peer Review Rated: AV®, American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorneys in Indiana for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service, and YWCA Evansville 100 Years, 100 Women Honoree, 2011.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars