How Social Security Work Credits Help You Get Benefits

Social Security work credits

Social Security work credits can be confusing, especially if you’ve been out of work or dependent on a partner’s income. But if you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits, knowing how to check your work credits is extremely important. The number of Social Security work credits you’ll need depends on your age and type of benefits that you seek. Having 40 Social Security work credits is enough to qualify for any SSA benefit, provided you meet all required criteria. If you don’t have 40 disability work credits yet and don’t know how to earn more, this information should help.

What are Social Security Work Credits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) views work credits as “building blocks” that help determine if you can qualify for benefits. Basically, the SSA looks to see if you worked the minimum number of years and paid your Social Security taxes. When both requirements are met, you earn up to a maximum of four “work credits” every year.

Before 1978, employers reported earnings at the end of each quarter (one three-month period) to the SSA. Back then, credits were called “quarters of coverage,” or QCs for short. If you earned at least $50 in a three-month calendar quarter, that counted as one QC to the SSA. But after 1978, employers changed their reporting schedule from quarterly to just once at the end of every year.

Today, Social Security work credits are based on your total wages and self-employment income during the year, regardless of when that work actually occurred. You could work all year to earn four credits, or you could earn them much faster — depending on your wages. In 2017, you must earn $1,300 in taxed wages to gain one Medicare or Social Security work credit.

What if I Stopped Working Before I Had Enough Social Security Work Credits to Qualify for Benefits?

Your Social Security credits history is kept on record with the SSA, and they never expire. If you’re unemployed for a while and then start working again, you can add work credits needed for disability benefits. Throughout your lifetime, you’ll likely earn more work credits than the minimum amount needed to qualify for SSDI benefits. However, these extra credits won’t affect the amount of benefits you may receive. Instead, your average earnings over the course of your working years will determine your monthly payment amount from the SSA.

Number of Social Security Credits Required for Specific Benefits Programs

Depending on which benefits you apply for, the number of Social Security work credits you’ll need to qualify can vary. See how the SSA determines the number of work credits needed to qualify for each type of benefit below.

  1. Retirement Benefits. The minimum number of Social Security work credits needed to qualify for retirement benefits depends on your date of birth. Born in 1929 or later? You’ll need 40 credits, or the equivalent of full-time employment for 10 years. Eligible applicants born before 1929 need fewer work credits (39 if born in 1928; 38 if born in 1927, etc.).
  2. Disability Benefits. The minimum number of work credits to qualify for SSDI depends on your age at the time you became disabled. In most cases, you still need 40 disability work credits. Additionally, you must have earned 20 work credits within the last decade, and ending the same year you became disabled.

However, there are some exceptions. Here are the basic rules:

  • If You Become Disabled Before Age 24 — You must have earned six work credits during the three-year period ending when your disability began to qualify for SSDI.
  • If You Become Disabled At 24-31 — You can qualify for SSDI by working half the time between age 21 and the year when you became disabled.
  • If you Become Disabled At 31 Or Older — Unless you’re blind, the SSA uses a specific formula to determine work credit requirements by birth date and disability age. Check out this handy SSA chart for more details.

How A Disability Advocate Can Help You

Still have questions? Consider speaking to a Social Security disability advocate or attorney before filing your own claim. Social Security law is complicated, and navigating the system on your own can be especially difficult.

Click the button below to get your free benefits evaluation and see if you may qualify for legal assistance today.

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