Eligibility Requirements for The Two Types of Federal Disability Benefits

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits you have to be disabled. In order to qualify as disabled, an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. Substantial gainful activity is defined as work where a person earns more than a certain amount monthly and is performing actual work tasks. If you are disabled, there are two types of disability benefits that individuals can qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  SSDI benefits are sometimes referred to as Title II benefits and SSI are sometimes called Title XVI benefits.  The eligibility criteria for SSDI and SSI are different. 

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Income (“SSDI”) is available to individuals who have worked and paid FICA taxes before they became disabled. In order to qualify as disabled, an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. Additionally, the Social Security Administration requires applicants to pass two tests to be eligible for SSDI, the recent work test and the duration of work test.

The recent work test applies to those who are 31 or older and SSA looks at an applicant’s work history, requiring that the applicant has worked 20 of the past 40 quarters, or 5 of the last 10 years. Those under 31 are waived from having to meet this requirement.

The duration of work test requires applicants to have worked for a specific number of years based off of the age they became disabled. Below is a chart showing the number of years and credits required in order to qualify for SSDI.

Became Disabled at Age
Number of Credits You Need
Number of Years of Worked
21 through 24 6 1.5
24 through 31 6 to 18 1.5 to 4.5
31 through 42 20 5
44 22 5.5
46 24 6
48 26 6.5
50 28 7
52 30 7.5
54 32 8
56 34 8.5
58 36 9
60 38 9.5
62 or older 40 10

For both the recent work test and the duration of work test to receive a credit you must earn over a certain amount and have paid FICA taxes.  The amount needed to qualify for a credit changes yearly.  For example, in 2008, an individual needed to make $1,050 in a quarter to receive credit for working that quarter.  As of 2018, when a worker pays into FICA they receive a Social Security work credit for every $1,320 they earn. In 2018, workers can earn up to a maximum of four credits per year for earning $5,200 and these credits accumulate over a lifetime of work.

If an applicant is disabled and meets both for SSA’s work credit requirements than they are eligible for SSDI. Those who are disabled but do not have enough credits will not be eligible for SSDI, however, they may be eligible for SSI which has no work requirements

Additionally, disabled dependents of SSDI recipients, individuals receiving Social Security retirement income, individuals that passed away and were eligible to receive SSDI to SS retirement income before death are eligible for SSDI.   These are frequently called child benefits, meaning the child receives the benefit based upon the parent’s work record.  These child benefits are available to dependents starting at the age of 18.  To be eligible for these SSDI benefits, a child must become disabled prior to the age of 22.   Disabled children may receive these SSDI benefits into adulthood. Spouses or ex-spouses of disabled workers receiving SSDI may also receive benefits when they care for the children of a disabled worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income is available to most individuals who are 65 or older, blind, or disabled and have limited income and financial resources. To qualify for SSI applicants must demonstrate that they have limited financial means. An applicant must not own more than $2,000 in countable assets. If the applicant is married they may own upwards of $3,000 in jointly held countable assets. Countable assets are anything of value that do not include a home or one vehicle.  (If more than one vehicle is owned, the additional vehicles are considered countable assets).

Similar to SSDI, to qualify as disabled an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. The physical or mental impairment must last longer than 12 months in order to qualify. There is no work requirement necessary, setting SSI apart from SSDI.

Children who are blind or disabled may also qualify for SSI benefits as early as the date of birth. While many of the conditions that SSA considers a disability apply to children, some additional physical and mental impairments are recognized. A full list can be found here.  When they reach the age of 18, children who receive SSI are reevaluated by SSA under the application requirements for adults.

If the applicant can demonstrate they fulfill both their disability and limited financial means requirements than they are likely eligible for SSI.