Apply for Social Security Benefits Disability Insurance

Making Sense of SSDI Payroll Work Credits


There are many complexities involved with the application process for obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Because of these challenges, our SSDI Lawyers have provided the most important steps to get started in an effort to help simplify the application process overall.

One qualification factor, in particular, that confuses applicants are “payroll work credits,” but first it is important to understand the main idea behind the benefits, and how the work credit system is calculated throughout your work history.

What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

SSDI is a type of insurance you pay for with payroll deductions throughout your career. To qualify for SSDI benefits, in addition to being disabled and having an income that falls below a certain level, you must have earned the proper number of payroll work credits, and we will further explain how to count the number of credits you currently possess when beginning your application for benefits.

What are Social Security Benefits & Work Credits?

If you are unsure how to see how many social security benefits you have, do not hesitate to call your benefits lawyer to help guide this process, as it is one of the most important initial steps regarding the benefits process.

How many work credits you need to obtain disability benefits depends on how old you were when you became disabled. Most people have been regularly employed prior to becoming disabled. If you are disabled and have never worked because of your disability, you may need to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a different Social Security disability benefits program.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance, the Oklahoma City disability attorneys at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons can answer your questions and guide you through the application and appeals process. Many people with valid disability claims are denied benefits initially and have to appeal to receive benefits. Contact us today to arrange your free initial consultation.

Below, we look at how payroll work credits are earned and applied to your SSDI benefit.

 The Steps in Determining SSDI Eligibility


Most employed Americans earn payroll work credits and have FICA taxes taken out of their paychecks, which essentially pays for Social Security Disability Insurance. Work credits are based on how long you have worked, how recently you have worked and how much money you earned each year. Work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits annually.

Each year, the amount of money you must earn to receive credits increases slightly as average earnings levels increase. In 2019, workers receive one credit for each $1,360 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year.

As you can see, most full-time workers and many part-time workers will qualify for the maximum number of credits available each year. At minimum wage, a worker would earn four payroll work credits in 19 40-hour weeks or less than five months.

But the number of credits you need to get disability benefits depends on how old you are when you become disabled. This is known as the “duration of work test” and requires multiple years of employment. The older you are, the more years you need to have worked to qualify for disability.

A second measurement is the “recent work test.” You must have earned a certain number of credits in recent years to qualify for SSDI. This is so the program assists workers, not people who have retired and then seek benefits years later. These requirements also vary by age.

How Many Work Credits Do I Need to Qualify for Benefits?

In general, to get disability benefits, a worker must qualify under two different earnings tests:

  • Recent work test based on your age at the time you became disabled.
  • Duration of work test measuring how long you have contributed to the Social Security system.

Both tests refer to calendar “quarters,” dividing the year into three-month increments: January through March is the first quarter, April through June is the second quarter, July through September is the third quarter, and October through December is the fourth quarter.

The recent work test has three scenarios:

  • If you become disabled before or during the quarter you turn 24 years old, you generally need to have worked for 18 months (six quarters) during the previous three years.
  • If you become disabled in the quarter after the one in which you turned 24 but before the quarter in which you turn 31, you need to have worked for half of the period from after the quarter you turned 21 until the quarter you became disabled. If you become disabled in the quarter you turn 27 years old, you would need to have worked three years (12 quarters) out of the six-year period between turning 21 and becoming disabled.
  • If you become disabled in the quarter you turn 31 years old or afterward, you need to have worked five years (20 quarters) out of the 10 years prior to the quarter in which you became disabled.

What are the Requirements of the Duration Test?

To meet the requirements of the duration test, you must have a minimum of six quarters of coverage (18 months). According to the Social Security Administration, in general, if you take the year you became disabled and subtract the year you turned 22 years old, you’ll have the number of quarters of coverage necessary to meet the duration test requirement.

If you turned 22 in 1981 and were disabled in 2019 (the year you turn 60), you’ll need to have had 38 quarters of employment with Social Security deductions, or 9.5 years, to meet the duration test. Of the 38 quarters, 20 will need to have been since 2009 – the prior 10 years – to meet the recent work test.

If you turned 22 in 2001 and were disabled in 2019 (the year you turn 40), you’ll need to have had 18 quarters of employment with Social Security deductions, or 4.5 years, to meet the duration test. But you’ll also need 20 quarters of work since 2009 – the prior 10 years – to meet the recent work test. Scenarios like this can cause confusion.

There are also exceptions to payroll work credit requirements for applicants who are blind or who are self-employed and earn very little, and special rules for applicants whose jobs were:

  • Military service
  • Farm work
  • Domestic work
  • Work for a religious organization (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.) or religion-affiliated organization that does not pay Social Security taxes.

Where to Apply for Social Security Benefits?

Like just about everyone else, the Social Security Administration now provides the most information to consumers online. If you are 60 years old or older and understand how many payroll work credits you have and the steps to qualify, you can request your Social Security statement by mail by completing a Request for Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (Form SSA-7004SM), which is available … online.

You can also get it at your local Social Security office.

To find out how many work credits you have accumulated, on the Social Security Administration homepage, look for “My Social Security.” Click through and click again on “Create an Account.”

You must be at least 18 years old and provide:

  • Your name as it appears on your Social Security card
  • Social Security number
  • Valid email address
  • S. mailing address
  • Mother’s maiden name.

Once you get your statement, check it closely. Errors are not uncommon.

If you have questions about your Social Security disability benefits claim you cannot answer online, contact a knowledgeable Oklahoma City disability benefits attorney at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons. Your first consultation is free. We may be able to resolve your problems in a single meeting or help you appeal a denied disability claim. If you are unfamiliar with the Social Security benefits system, our knowledgeable attorneys are ready to assist.