What are the qualifications for securing disability benefits?

When people either suffer a debilitating injury or are diagnosed with a medical condition that will prevent them from working, their thoughts inevitably gravitate toward what they can do to keep a roof over their head and cover basic living expenses.

These concerns are certainly understandable and the good news is that there are viable options available to help make ends meet, including Social Security disability insurance.

It's important to understand, however, that the Social Security Administration has established basic qualifications that a person must satisfy in order to secure disability benefits.  

In today's post -- and future posts -- we'll take a closer look at some of these qualifications.

What are the basic eligibility requirements for securing disability benefits?

  • An applicant must be younger than their full retirement age.
  • An applicant's medical condition must satisfy the SSA's definition of disability.
  • An applicant's monthly income cannot exceed a set amount ($1,070 per month in 2014).
  • An applicant must have spent time working in jobs covered by Social Security.

Exactly how much time must a person spend working in jobs covered by Social Security?

A person seeking to secure disability benefits must have accrued a certain number of so-called Social Security work credits, which are based on either self-employment income or total wages for the year. Up to four credits can be earned per year.

The number of Social Security work credits needed to qualify for disability benefits depends on the person's age when they become disabled. In general, people need 40 work credits, at least half of which must be accrued within the 10 years preceding the year in which the disability occurred.

Nevertheless, it's important to understand that younger people, many of whom are lacking these work credits, can still qualify for disability benefits under certain circumstances.

How does a person earn Social Security work credits?

The amount needed to earn a work credit changes every year. In 2014, the amount per credit is set at $1,200 of self-employment income or wages, meaning that a person gets all four work credits if they earn $4,800 this year.

Stay tuned for future posts in which we will continue to explore this fascinating yet complex topic, delving into such issues as the SSA's definition of disability and how benefits are calculated.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Disability planner: How you qualify for Social Security disability benefits," July 2014