Published on: November 19, 2014
A lot more goes into a SSI or SSDI benefit determination than you might realize at first glance. Every application and review consists of countless factors that can make or break your eligibility for benefits.
What many applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance overlook, however, is the important role prior work history has in determining their benefit amount.
How What You Can (and Can’t) Do at Work Affects Benefits
Applicants for the Social Security Administration’s SSDI programs have their benefit amounts and eligibility largely dictated by working contributions prior to the onset of disability. This is primarily decided based on Social Security tax credits, which are paid throughout one’s working life.
In the sudden or gradual onset of disability, you become eligible when you are unable to perform substantial work. Disability benefits through these programs are essentially replacement/supplementary sources of income, in circumstances where one cannot work or earn wages as well as prior to a disability.
To be eligible for SSI or SSDI benefits, your condition must limit your ability to work effectively, and be supported by medical documentation and evidence. Additionally, your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least one year; those seeking benefits for a temporary condition, such as broken bones, need not apply.
The SSA typically provides benefits for disabilities with real, tangible affects on one’s ability to work for at least one year, or result in death.
For this reason, one of the most helpful things you can do when pursuing SSI or SSDI benefits through the Social Security Administration is contact an experienced, knowledgeable disability consultant in your state and local community. Disability benefit experts in your area can help you understand your eligibility based on your work history, as well as your medical condition.
To build the strongest benefit application, finding a disability pro in your state is almost essential.
The SSA’s Eligibility Tests: Recent Work and Duration of Work
The Social Security Administration typically uses two testing tools to determine your non-medical eligibility for SSDI benefits, as well as the amount you may receive; these are the recent work test and duration of work test. These tests take into account time spent working in accordance with factors such as your age, and the date at which you became disabled.
In a duration of work test, the SSA will determine your eligibility for benefits based on the total number of years spent working relative to your age; generally, the older you are when your disability sets in, the longer you will have had to work to be eligible for benefits.
Duration of work requirements increase incrementally with age. Some examples of these increments are as follows:
- If your disability onset occurred before age 28, you are required to have worked at least 1.5 years
- At 34, this requirement increases to 3 years
- At 44, this requirement increases to 5.5 years
- At 56, this requirement increases to 8.5 years
- At 60, this requirement increases to 9.5 years
For this test, the working years required do not fall into a set window, and can be at any point in your occupational life. However, the same cannot be said for the SSA’s other work test, the recent work test.
In a recent work test, the SSA will look at your work contributions in relation to calendar quarter schedules; as a rule of thumb, you will have had to work, generally, 50% of a set period leading up to your disability. This timeframe is determined by your age.
If your disability began before age 24, you are required to have worked at least 1.5 of the 3 years leading up to your disability. For applicants between ages 24 and 31, it’s required that they work at least 50% of the time between age 21 and their disability (so, for applicants affected by disability at age 27, they will have had to work at least half of the years since 21; at least 3 of 6 years).
Beyond age 31, it is required that applicants for disability benefits work at least 5 of the 10 years leading up to the onset of their condition.
These tests are used by the SSA to ensure that applicants receive full benefits for their workplace contributions to Social Security, and disqualify applicants with insufficient work history; this eligibility is known as Disability Insured Status.
Since applying for benefits or appealing an initial determination can be difficult, many applicants choose to hire an experienced disability consultant to oversee their applications and/or appeals, and improve their overall chances of receiving benefits.
The SSA determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis, taking into account medical records, condition severity and contributions to Social Security through work taxes. For the best chances of eligibility and benefits, find a disability expert in your community to build and improve your application.