How Long do I Have to Work to Qualify for Disability?

There are two federal programs for disability benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), and they are similar in many ways when it comes to assessing your medical condition. However, there are significant differences under other eligibility rules for disability established by Social Security Administration (SSA). One major distinction is that SSI is a needs-based program, which assesses an applicant’s assets and income to determine eligibility. SSDI, on the other hand, is based upon your work history. You must accumulate a designated amount of work credits in the years before you apply.

As such, it is common for potential applicants to ask how long they have to work to qualify for SSDI benefits. Every case is unique, but there are some basic guidelines that can help you understand your work history for disability purposes. The details can be complicated, and keep in mind that you must still meet the medical criteria. To ensure the best possible outcome with applying for SSDI, it is wise to trust an Arizona Social Security disability attorney. You can also read on for a summary of the work history rules set by SSA.

Overview of the SSDI Program:

Within the name of the program is the term “insurance,” and it is helpful to think of SSDI as a type of insurance policy. While you are working, you have probably noticed a number of deductions from your paycheck; one notable item is FICA taxes. The Federal Insurance Contributions Act creates a type of federal payroll tax, through which you earn credits for purposes of SSDI.

For 2023, you can earn one work credit for every $1,640 you make in income. You can accumulate up to 4 work credits per year, but this does not need to be one credit per calendar quarter. Seasonal workers might earn all 4 credits – $6,560 – in a single quarter, and they will still qualify for SSDI.

How the Work History Requirement Works:

There are two criteria that SSA considers when reviewing your work credits:

1.    Recent Work Test: You must have earned work credits by earning an income and paying into FICA in recent years, and the exact amount depends upon your age when becoming disabled. For someone who is 31 years old or older, you need to work 5 of the last 10 years to qualify. Those aged 24 to 31 must have worked at least half of their life since turning 21, while anyone 24 or younger needs at least 6 credits in the last 3 years.

2.    Duration of Work: This test reviews the total amount of work, and age is also a factor. A person who is 62 or older must earn 40 credits or 10 years. An applicant who is 25 years old needs 6 credits in 1.5 years, while a 40-year-old must have 18 credits in their work history.

Medical Requirement for SSDI:

While work history is critical, do not overlook SSA’s strict rules on who qualifies from a medical standpoint. To be approved for benefits, you must suffer from an ailment or injury that is expected to last at least 12 months or lead to death. Your medical condition must also prevent you from working in your normal line of work or reduce your ability to earn a nominal income.

SSA has developed a Blue Book, which is a Listing of Impairments that contains various conditions. It is necessary to meet or equal a Blue Book listing to satisfy the medical requirement. You do so by include medical records, such as:

  • Results of imaging tests, including x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs;
  • Lab screenings and biopsy reports;
  • History of treatment for your condition;
  • Prescriptions; and,
  • Physician’s notes.

Application Process for Disability Benefits:

You begin the process by filing an SSDI application online, which must be supported by all information about your medical condition and work history. Many initial applications are denied, but there are additional steps you can take to gain approval. A request for reconsideration, disability hearing, and appeals are options. Getting help from an attorney is crucial to gather evidence, deal with SSA, and advocate on your behalf during the process.  

Consult with an Arizona SSDI Lawyer for Additional Details

It is helpful to know what SSA reviews when looking at your work history for Social Security disability, but you can see the challenges with applying. For more information, please contact Pekas Smith: Arizona Disability Attorneys at 602.892.7667 or via our website. We can schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about your circumstances.

All of Arizona













and anywhere YOU are in AZ.
textured line

Choosing our Arizona Disability Attorneys provides advantages you can’t get from national firms and non-local advocates.


"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.