How Your Work History Affects your SSDI Benefits Eligibility

Published on: July 8, 2020

Are you considering applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits? You may want to assess your work history before doing so.

While SSDI benefits are available for those who have paid into it via a payroll tax, there are other requirements and criteria that factor into a person’s SSDI benefits eligibility other than just working. 

However, the number of years you worked and the amount you made can both affect your SSDI benefit amount, while certain careers can even affect your SSDI benefits eligibility altogether. 

How Your Work History and SSDI Benefits Are Related

Your work history plays a major role in the Social Security’s formula for calculating your work credits and Social Security SSDI benefits amount. Part of their calculation of your work credits is based on the number of actual years you have worked and their medical records proving a disability. While Supplemental Security Income (SSI) requires no work history to apply, your SSDI benefits eligibility rests on your recent work history and if you've paid Social Security taxes from your income. 

When applying for SSDI benefits, you will have to fill out a work history report to prove you have earned enough work credits to be considered eligible. The total amount of work credits you can earn each year are determined by how much you make. Employees can receive a maximum of four work credits each year. In 2020, one work credit is equal to an employee earning $1,410. Applicants who are over 31 years old generally need a total of 20 work credits within the previous fifteen years to qualify for SSDI benefits; for those applying for benefits younger than 31, there are exceptions to this rule.  

How Certain Careers Affect Your SSDI Benefits 

Some careers have certain provisions and can impact your SSDI benefits amount, such as self-employment, employment overseas, or federal employment. Here is some more information on each.

Self- Employment

If you are self-employed and applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, then you must have a record of your SSDI contributions.

For example, you will have needed to consistently file a self-employment tax return showing that you have paid the appropriate SSDI taxes. Having done so will satisfy the documentation requirement for having paid the appropriate Social Security taxes. 

Overseas Employment

The Social Security Administration has initiated a networking of bilateral agreements with other nations to coordinate the U.S. Social Security program with similar overseas institutions. One such agreement is known as the Totalization Agreement, which coordinates Social Security protection with 24 other countries. 

Besides protecting employees from dual Social Security taxation, the Totalization Agreement allows the work credits you earned overseas to be counted toward your work history for your SSDI benefit eligibility and amount. It also allows, under certain circumstances, the payments you may have made into the Social Security systems of other countries to be combined with your payments into our Social Security system for purposes of computing your benefits.Therefore, your overseas employment may or may not be counted as part of your work history when applying for SSDI benefits.

Federal Employment

Due to 1984’s Windfall Elimination Provision, federal employees who were hired prior to 1984 will likely have less SSDI benefits. Prior to 1983, federal employees did not have Social Security taxes withheld from their salary. The result is reduced Social Security benefits. 

However, those federal employees that were hired after 1983 will have coverage for their earned work credits as this is the time when federal employees began paying into SSDI. 

How Can You Find Out More About your Work History?

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits, but have a long and varied employment history, you may worry that you’ll leave an employer out or miss an important detail. What if you can’t recall every job you’ve had? Since your past employment affects your SSDI benefits eligibility, you want to make sure you can put every employment experience you’ve had on the Social Security work history report. 

Luckily, the Social Security Administration can help fill in the blanks in your memory. To do so, simply fill out and submit a Request for Social Security Earnings Information. The application will allow you to access detailed information about your work history, including your previous employers and addresses, employment dates, and how much you earned. However, the SSA does charge a $115 fee to receive this information. 

Another way to access your employment history (sans any fees) is your W2 forms. If you have saved your tax records, rummaging through your old forms can help you find information about your previous employment. If you’re unable to find any information or your dates with your previous employment, you can try to call the HR office at each company and ask if they have your work history with them on file.

You can also access your earnings amount for free through the SSA. Every year that you pay Social Security taxes, the SSA keeps a record to determine average wages earned over your career. You can access these earnings records by signing into your Social Security account at SSA.gov

If you're confused about any aspect of applying for disability benefits or about your SSDI benefits eligibility, please contact a skilled disability expert as soon as possible. Disability advocates can help you gather all you need for your work history and navigate the complex process by your side. 

Breaking Down Work Credits for Social Security Disability Insurance Guide

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