Social Security Disability Requirements

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has strict eligibility requirements. To qualify, you must have enough previously earned work credits. You must also be unable to earn more than $1,470 a month due to a severe disability that is expected to last at least 12 months.

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    Lindsey Crossmier

    Lindsey Crossmier

    Financial Writer

    Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.

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    Lamia Chowdhury, editor for RetireGuide.com

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    Brandon Renfro, RetireGuide Reviewer

    Brandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA

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  • Published: March 6, 2023
  • Updated: June 7, 2023
  • 6 min read time
  • This page features 12 Cited Research Articles
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How to Cite RetireGuide.com's Article

APA Crossmier, L. (2023, June 7). Social Security Disability Requirements. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/disability-benefits/requirements/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Social Security Disability Requirements." RetireGuide.com, 7 Jun 2023, https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/disability-benefits/requirements/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Social Security Disability Requirements." RetireGuide.com. Last modified June 7, 2023. https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/disability-benefits/requirements/.

Key Takeaways:
  • To qualify for Social Security Disability, you must have a severe enough impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in your death.
  • You must have enough Social Security work credits to qualify for the program. Most people need at least 20 credits.
  • You don’t have to stop working to receive SSDI, but you can’t earn more than $1,470 a month.
  • Some people may qualify for SSDI under special rules, including people who are blind, disabled surviving spouses and disabled children.

Eligibility Requirements for Social Security

Not all disabilities qualify for disability benefits. To be eligible for the SSDI program, your impairment must be severe enough to significantly restrict your ability to work and is expected to last at least 12 months or end in your death.

Your impairment must also fall under one of the following 14 categories:
  1. Musculoskeletal disorders
  2. Special senses and speech
  3. Respiratory disorders
  4. Cardiovascular system
  5. Digestive system
  6. Genitourinary disorders
  7. Hematological disorders
  8. Skin disorders
  9. Endocrine disorders
  10. Congenital disorders that affect multiple body systems
  11. Neurological disorders
  12. Mental disorders
  13. Cancer
  14. Immune system disorder

You can review the eligibility criteria for each category in more detail in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book.

Work Credits Required

To qualify for SSDI payments, you must have enough Social Security work credits before the onset of your disability. You will receive four credits for every year in which you earned at least $6,560 and paid into Social Security through your payroll taxes. However, the amount of work credits needed for SSDI varies by age.

Work Credit Requirements by Age
  • People who are 31 or older need at least 20 credits — or five years of qualifying work — in the 10-year period before the onset of their disability.
  • People who are 24 or younger need at least 6 credits — or 1.5 years of work — in the three-year period before the onset of their disability.
  • People between the ages of 24 and 31 need credits for half the time between when they turned 21 and when their disability began.

Disqualifying Disabilities

There aren’t any disabilities that automatically disqualify you from receiving SSDI benefits. Disabilities that are not on the SSA’s list of impairments is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

It’s important to note that there are many impairments that don’t disable you to the point of qualifying for SSDI.

You may not qualify for SSDI benefits if:
  • Your disability isn’t severe enough, as defined by the SSA.
  • Your disability isn’t expected to last more than 12 months.
  • You can still perform some work, even if you can’t return to the job you had before your illness or injury.

How Your Age Affects the Amount You’re Eligible For

The amount of money you get in SSDI benefits is based on how much you would receive from regular Social Security if you retired at your full retirement age. But as long as you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits, your age at the time of your application doesn’t matter. What does affect your payment is whether you also decide to collect your regular Social Security benefits.

Some people take early retirement instead of undergoing the lengthy disability determination process needed to claim SSDI. By doing this, you permanently reduce the amount of SSDI benefits you get each month. That reduction is also based on your full retirement benefits amount.

The chart below illustrates how a $1,000 Social Security benefit gets reduced if it’s taken at age 62.

Year of BirthFull Retirement Age (FRA) Months Between Age 62 and FRABenefit ReductionReduced Benefit Amount
1943-1954664825.00%$750
195566 and 2 months5025.83%$741
195666 and 4 months5226.67%$733
195766 and 6 months5427.50%$725
195866 and 8 months5628.33%$716
195966 and 10 months5829.17%$708
1960 or later676030.00%$700

Who Approves Your Disability Benefits?

Initial applications for SSDI get approved by your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office.

If DDS denies your benefits request and you choose to appeal, your claim will be passed on to the Office of Hearing Operations. Here, an administrative law judge will review the evidence you’ve presented and decide whether to approve you for benefits.

Health professionals also play a big role in determining whether your disability gets approved for benefits. This is because they are the ones who perform the tests and examinations required for approval, as well as provide medical evidence regarding your disability.

Are You Required To Stop Working To Receive Disability Benefits?

You don’t need to stop working to receive SSDI benefits. However, you will need to prove that you’re unable to earn more than the substantial gainful activity threshold amount to be declared disabled. The 2023 threshold is $1,470. If you earn more than that each month, you won’t qualify for SSDI.

If you work while collecting SSDI payments, you’ll trigger a trial work period (TWP) during each month in which you earn more than $1,050. If you accrue nine TWPs during a rolling 60-month period, your disability will be considered to have ended and you’ll no longer receive SSDI benefits.

Special Qualifying Exceptions

Some people qualify for SSDI benefits under special rules. Among those exceptions are people who have low vision or blindness, wounded veterans, surviving spouses or ex-spouses and children with disabilities.

Blind or Low Vision

People who are blind are automatically approved for SSDI.

For the purposes of SSDI, you qualify as blind if:
  • Your vision is 20/200 or worse, with glasses or contact lenses.
  • Your best eye has a field of vision of 20 degrees or less and this impairment is expected to last more than 12 months.

Blind people also have a higher substantial gainful activity (SGA) threshold of $2,460 per month.

Surviving Spouses and Surviving Divorced Spouses

If you’re between the ages of 50 and 59, have a disability and your spouse or ex-spouse has passed away, you may be eligible for survivors benefits equal to 71.5% of your deceased spouse’s full retirement benefit amount.

Although these benefits are technically a form of survivors benefits, you’ll need to have the same disability determination process as you would when applying for SSDI.

Children with Disabilities

Children who have a disability that began before age 22 may be eligible for SSDI under their parent’s Social Security earnings record. To qualify, the child must have an impairment that severely restricts their ability to take part in work or school.

If their claim is approved, the disabled child will receive a percentage of their parent’s Social Security entitlement amount as SSDI benefits. They can receive benefits for as long as they remain disabled, even after they turn 23.

Wounded Veterans

Wounded veterans can receive SSDI if they qualify, even if they get benefits from Veterans Affairs for the same impairment. To be approved, they must apply for SSDI separately and meet all the same requirements as a disabled civilian.

Last Modified: June 7, 2023

12 Cited Research Articles

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023, February). SSA: What is Disability? Retrieved from https://soarworks.samhsa.gov/article/ssa-what-is-disability
  2. Social Security Administration. (2023, January). Benefits For Children With Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10026.pdf
  3. Social Security Administration. (2023, January). If You’re Blind or Have Low Vision — How We Can Help. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10052.pdf
  4. Social Security Administration. (2022, August). Disability Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf
  5. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Disability Evaluation Under Social Security. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/general-info.htm
  6. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). If You Are the Survivor. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html
  7. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Information for Military & Veterans. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/people/veterans/
  8. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Medical/Professional Relations: Disability Evaluation Under Social Security. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm
  9. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Social Security Credits. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/credits.html
  10. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/agereduction.html
  11. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Substantial Gainful Activity. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/sga.html
  12. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Trial Work Period. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/twp.html