Social Security Disability - What Requirements Determine Eligibility?

Are You Eligibile for Benefits?

Man looking at application for Social Security benefits.
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It is wise to learn about Social Security Disability requirements before you get involved in the application process. Social Security Disability requirements are different than other programs which may grant benefits for partial or short-term disability.

Your Medical Condition Determines Disability

Social Security pays benefits to you if you cannot work because you have a medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or result in death.

In addition to having a medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least one year or result in death, disability under Social Security rules is based on your inability to work. To be eligible for benefits, you must not be able to do work that you did before (substantial gainful activity) and the Social Security Administration must determine that you cannot adjust to other work due to your medical condition. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability.

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. Don't wait -- it can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (approximately 3 to 5 months).

To get Social Security Disability benefits, you must also meet two different earnings tests. One is called a "recent work test" which looks at your age when you first became disabled. The other is a "duration of work test" which confirms that you worked long enough under Social Security to be eligible for benefits.

Recent Work Test

The recent work test considers when you became disabled and how that fell out in terms of calendar quarters. The calendar quarters are:

  • First quarter - January, February, March
  • Second quarter - April, May, June
  • Third quarter - July, August, September
  • Fourth quarter - October, November, December

    If you become disabled in or before the quarter you turn age 24, you generally need 1.5 years of work during the three-year period that ends with the quarter your disability began. Confused yet? There's more.

    If you become disabled in the quarter after you turn age 24 but before the quarter you turn age 31, you need work during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled.

    If you become disabled in the quarter you turn age 31 or later, you generally need work during 5 years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.

    Duration of Work Test

    This test determines how long you worked by the age you were when disability began. For example, if you become disabled before age 28, you need to have worked for 1.5 years. If you became disabled at age 42, you need 5 years of work. Disabled at age 60? You need 9.5 years of work. In any of these cases, for the duration of work test, your work does not have to fall within a certain period of time.

    Important Points to Remember

    To receive Social Security Disability benefits, you must be disabled according to the definition of disability used by Social Security. You must also have worked long enough and a specified amount of your work experience must be recent.

    If you cannot meet the requirements for disability, recent work, and duration of work -- you will not be eligible for benefits. If you do, you're ready to begin the application process.

    Remember, Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

    Sources:

    Disability Benefits. SSA Publication No. 05-10029, November 2008, ICN 456000.
    http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10029.html

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