Social Security Disability – The Work Requirement

Q: Concerning the Social Security disability work requirement, how does a person know if they have enough work or not?

A: As with the retirement and survivors programs, Social Security disability has a work requirement. Specific work requirements vary with the type of benefit involved. For disability, you must have worked long enough and recently enough. Work requirements vary based on age. You are insured for SSA purposes if you met the work requirement.

Before the question of medical disability is considered, Social Security representatives first establish if a person has the required amount of work at the right time for their age. If work requirements are not met, a medical decision is not made. 

Whatever your age, you must have earned the required number of work credits, also called quarters of coverage, within a certain period ending with the time you become disabled. If you qualify now but you stop working under Social Security, you may not continue to meet the disability work requirement in the future. For example, use a person in their twenties, working and insured for SSA disability. If this person leaves the paid workforce, at some point he or she will no longer meet the work requirements. Exactly when this will occur depends on their age and work history.

The number of work credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

Basic information about how much work is needed for SSA disability at different ages is at This is general information. Do not let questions about having enough work at the right time prevent you from filing for disability if medical need arises. If you might meet the basic medical definition of SSA disability, consider filing for benefits. A Social Security representative will review your actual work record and determine if you have enough work at the right time (meet insured status). If you do, a medical decision will be made. If you do not, the application will end but you could appeal if you disagree.  

Reminder: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a very different program also administered by Social Security. Based on income and financial resources, SSI has similar medical requirements but does not have a work requirement. Very often, individuals file applications for both programs.