Your eligibility for some types of Social Security benefits is based on your work record. When you work and pay into Social Security, you earn credits toward Social Security benefits. The length of time that you need to work to earn enough credits depends on whether you are seeking benefits based on disability or retirement and your age at the time of disability. You may be eligible for Social Security benefits if you are:
- A retired or a disabled worker who paid into Social Security
- The current or divorced spouse of a worker receiving benefits if you meet certain other requirements (Note: a remarriage could affect the spouse's entitlement to benefits).
- A deceased worker's widow or widower who is at least 60 years old or, if disabled, at least 50 years old
- The surviving divorced spouse of a deceased worker, if you meet certain other requirements
- The dependent child of a worker receiving benefits
- The surviving dependent child of a deceased worker
- The surviving dependent parent of a deceased worker, if the parent is at least 62 years old
- A low-income person who has a disability, is blind or is aged 65 or older
Social Security Retirement Benefits
The number of credits you need to get Social Security retirement benefits depends on when you were born. If you were born in 1929 or later, you need a total of 40 credits (40 quarters or 10 years of work) to qualify. You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits when you reach age 62 but your monthly benefits will be less than if you reach your full retirement age. Your full retirement age also varies based on when you were born. SSA will consider you fully retired if you were born:
- In 1937 or earlier and you are more than 65 years old
- Between 1938 and 1954 and you are at least 65 to 66 years old
- Between 1955 and 1959 and you are at least 66 to 67 years old
- In 1960 or later and you are at least 67 years old
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Benefits
Usually, you need a total of 40 credits (40 quarters of work or 10 years of work) to qualify for SSDI. 20 quarters must be within the 10 years before your disability began. However, workers under the age of 62 may qualify with fewer credits.
You can get SSDI if you are unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment which has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or will result in death. Medical evidence documenting your condition is required. The SSA uses a 5 step process in deciding whether you have a disability:
- Step 1: Are you working and earning more than $1,170 per month? If yes, then SSA considers you not disabled. If no, go to Step 2.
- Step 2: Do you have a medical condition which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities? If yes, go to Step 3.
- Step 3: Is your medical condition on SSA's "Listing of Impairments" for Adults?If yes, then SSA considers you disabled. You may also be considered disabled if your condition or combination of conditions is similar to and as severe as an impairment that is on the list. If no, go to Step 4.
- Step 4: Are you physically and mentally able to return to a job that you have held within the past fifteen years? If yes, then SSA considers you not disabled. If no, go to Step 5
- Step 5: Does your age, education, and work experience allow you to perform other types of work despite your physical and mental limitations? If no, then SSA considers you disabled.
The SSDI application and appeals process may take many months or even years to be approved for benefits, so it is best to apply for SSDI as soon as possible. SSA calculates the starting date for paying you benefits based on the date your disability began and the date you applied. This includes possible back benefits from the time you waited for approval. If you are eligible for SSDI and SSI, you should apply for both, as SSDI does not pay benefits until the sixth month after your disability began. SSI pays benefits back to one month after you applied as long as you were already disabled then.
Updated: January 2017