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How long do you have to work to qualify for Social Security?

On Behalf of Christian Ayers
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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) protects workers who suffer life-altering injuries or who develop disabling medical conditions. SSDI benefits are an important social safety net that helps limit the financial impact of being unable to work for medical reasons.

However, not just anyone can claim SSDI benefits. Only those who pay into Social Security can claim retirement or disability benefits. Although the federal program is accessible to anyone whose medical condition meets certain criteria, there are also employment or contribution requirements that affect someone’s benefit claim.

Your condition must be debilitating enough and last long enough to qualify for benefits. You also need to have worked for long enough to accrue an appropriate amount of credit for SSDI benefits.

How many credits do you need to get benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks what you pay and awards you credits based on your contributions. From your first job as a teenager, you have slowly built up credits that make you eligible for SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits later in life. Generally, you need to have 40 credits to qualify for Social Security benefits.

You can earn one credit for each $1,470 you earn, and you can accrue up to four credits a year. In other words, you usually need to have worked for at least 10 years to qualify for SSDI benefits.  However, people can suffer disabling injuries at any age, possibly before they have had a decade on the job. Younger workers can qualify for disability benefits with as little as 1.5 years of work on record if they are under the age of 28.

How do you know if you have work for long enough to qualify?

The SSA typically sends out periodic letters to workers, informing them about the number of credits they have on record and what benefits they might qualify for if they retire or make a disability claim. If you do not have any documentation from the SSA about your accrued credits, you can check your status through their website.

Knowing the basics of how the SSDI program works can make it easier for you to navigate a complex benefits application.