When filing for Social Security disability benefits, you must establish two things for the Social Security Administration (SSA). First, you must show that you are disabled according to their stringent definition of disability. Second, you must show that you are eligible for Social Security programs. In the case of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), this is based on how much you have worked in recent years. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI), this means you must show that you have a financial need (again, according to their guidelines and definition of need).
Filing for Social Security disability benefits without a strong work history is more difficult, but not impossible. While the SSA does require that you have worked, earned income, and paid into FICA in order to qualify for SSDI, the work requirements are not as stringent as you may think.
The work requirement is on a sliding scale. Those who are younger or older will have an easier time qualifying with less work history than those who are in their 30s and 40s. The basic requirement is that you have worked at least one “quarter” each year for the past ten years, but this is lessened somewhat in the case of workers who are not yet old enough to have worked ten years or those who are nearing retirement age and are more likely to be deemed incapable of adjusting to new kinds of work.
Quarters are a somewhat misleading term, however. To earn a quarter of coverage, you don’t need to work a full quarter of the year. As a matter of fact, you can earn four quarters of coverage (the maximum available in a single year) within the first couple months of the year if you earn enough money. The amount of income (and FICA tax paid) required to earn a quarter of coverage is adjusted on a yearly basis, but most wage earners will have little trouble earning at least one quarter of coverage per year.
Put together what employment history you do have in order to apply for SSDI. While the regulations regarding employment history and eligibility are fairly cut and dried, you may be surprised to find that you have earned more quarters of coverage than you may have thought.
If you don’t have enough quarters of coverage to qualify for SSDI, you should still apply for SSI. SSI is not based on your work history. Rather, it is based on your financial need and your disability. In order to qualify, you will need to report any earnings you have, as well as any assets. The income guidelines are somewhat stringent, and you are not allowed to own more than $2,000 worth of assets, excluding your home and a single vehicle.
Maneuvering the Social Security Disability system can be tricky at times, and most claimants should strongly consider using the services of an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer. Not only are they thoroughly familiar with the laws regarding Social Security Disability, but they also know how to put your claim together in a manner which is more likely to result in an acceptance. Disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they will not be paid unless you win your disability claim.
If you are disabled and you have worked for five out the past ten years, you should apply for SSDI. If you haven’t worked enough to qualify, or if you income is low enough (even if you do qualify for SSDI), you should still apply for SSI.