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SSDI Eligibility: Understand Requirements and How to Apply

If you’re dealing with a disability that’s keeping you from working, you might be wondering about SSDI eligibility. I get it. It’s a tough spot to be in, and the last thing you want is to jump through hoops trying to figure out if you qualify for benefits. The good news? I’m here to break it down for you in a way that’s easy to understand.

See, the Social Security Administration has a pretty strict definition of what counts as a disability. But don’t let that scare you off. If your condition is severe enough and expected to last at least a year (or result in death), you’ve got a shot. Plus, if you’ve paid into Social Security through your job, you might already have some work credits under your belt. That’s a big piece of the SSDI eligibility puzzle.

ssdi eligibility

What Is SSDI Eligibility?

Living with a disability can bring up questions about getting financial aid. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides support for people unable to work because of their medical condition. So, what does SSDI cover, and how can you tell if you qualify? Let’s go over the basics.


First off, it’s important to understand the difference between SSDI and SSI (Supplemental Security Income). While both programs are run by the Social Security Administration, they have different eligibility requirements.

SSDI is an earned benefit for people who have worked and paid Social Security taxes. Your SSDI benefits are based on your work history. On the other hand, SSI is a needs-based program for people with limited income and resources. You don’t need a work history to qualify for SSI.

SSDI Eligibility Requirements

So, what does it take to be eligible for SSDI? There are two main requirements:

  1. You must have a medical condition that meets Social Security’s definition of disability. This means your condition must be severe enough to prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or result in death.
  2. You must have worked long enough and recently enough in jobs covered by Social Security. The number of work credits you need depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years.

How to Apply for SSDI

If you think you might qualify for SSDI, the next step is to apply. You can do this online, by phone, or in person at your local Social Security office. Be prepared to provide detailed information about your medical condition, work history, and daily activities.

Once you apply, the Social Security Administration will look over your application and medical records to see if you qualify. This can take several months, so it’s smart to start as soon as you’re disabled.

Medical Conditions That Qualify for SSDI

One of the most common questions people have about SSDI is what medical conditions qualify. The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Social Security has a list of impairments that are considered severe enough to prevent a person from working, but even if your condition isn’t on the list, you may still qualify if it’s medically equivalent.

Musculoskeletal System and Connective Tissue Disorders

Musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders are some of the most common conditions for SSDI eligibility. This includes things like:

  • Back injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Muscular dystrophy

To qualify with one of these conditions, you’ll need to show that it significantly limits your ability to perform basic work activities like sitting, standing, walking, or lifting.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder can also qualify for SSDI if they’re severe enough to prevent you from working. Social Security will look at things like:

  • The severity and duration of your symptoms
  • How your symptoms affect your ability to 
  • function in daily life and work settings
  • Medical evidence like psychiatric records and therapy notes

Nervous System and Sense Organ Disorders

Nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy may qualify for SSDI if they cause significant functional limitations. Sense organ disorders like vision and hearing loss may also qualify if they’re severe enough to prevent you from working, even with accommodations.

Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome and autism can qualify for SSDI if they result in significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Social Security will look at things like IQ scores, academic records, and evidence of daily living skills.

Circulatory System Disorders

Circulatory system disorders like heart failure, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease can qualify for SSDI if they limit your ability to exert yourself physically. Social Security will consider things like your ejection fraction, exercise tolerance, and symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.

Schizophrenic and Other Psychotic Disorders

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders can qualify for SSDI if they cause marked limitations in areas like understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating and maintaining pace; or adapting or managing oneself. Symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking must be well-documented.

Other Mental Disorders

Other mental disorders like anxiety, personality disorders, and trauma-related disorders can potentially qualify for SSDI if they’re severe and persistent enough to prevent you from working. Thorough mental health records and evidence of treatment are important for these claims.

Organic Mental Disorders

If brain injury or disease leads to serious cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues, it might qualify someone for SSDI. Tests like neuropsychological exams and brain scans can provide the needed proof of these conditions.

SSDI Work History and Credit Requirements

You must meet two criteria to be eligible for SSDI: having a qualifying medical condition and sufficient recent work experience. What do these requirements mean exactly? Let’s explore further.

How Work Credits Are Calculated

You earn Social Security work credits based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income. In 2024, you earn one credit for each $1,730 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year. The amount needed for a work credit changes from year to year to keep up with inflation.

Most people need 40 credits to qualify for SSDI, 20 of which must have been earned in the last 10 years. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you become disabled.

Do Work Credits Expire?

Work credits don’t expire, but you do need to have earned a certain number of credits in recent years to qualify for SSDI. Generally, you need to have worked 5 out of the last 10 years to meet the recency requirement.

If you stop working due to your disability, your work credits can remain valid long enough for you to apply for SSDI. But if you wait too long, you may no longer have enough recent credits to qualify.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

Even if you have a qualifying medical condition and enough work credits, you still need to prove that you’re unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) to be eligible for SSDI.

SGA is defined as the level of work activity that disqualifies you from receiving disability benefits. In 2023, SGA is defined as earning more than $1,470 per month ($2,460 if you’re blind). If you’re able to engage in SGA, Social Security will find that you’re not disabled, regardless of your medical condition.

It’s important to note that SGA is just one factor in determining disability. Even if you’re not working at the SGA level, you still need to prove that your medical condition is severe enough to prevent you from working.

SSDI Benefits for Family Members

If you’re given the green light for SSDI, some of your family members could qualify for extra support thanks to your work record. This additional income can really make a difference when things are hard financially.

Who exactly can qualify? Let’s break it down step by step.

Spouse Benefits

If you’re married, your spouse may be able to receive benefits if they’re:

  • 62 or older
  • Any age and caring for your child who’s under 16 or disabled

Even if you’re divorced, your ex-spouse could qualify if you were married for at least 10 years. They’ll need to be unmarried and meet the same age or child-care requirements.

Child Benefits

Your kids can benefit if they are:

  • Unmarried and under 18 (or up to 19 if still in high school)
  • 18 or older with a disability that began before 22

Biological children, adopted ones, and stepchildren all count. In some instances, your grandkids and their stepsiblings could be eligible as well.

Survivor Benefits

If you pass away, some of your family members might be eligible for benefits based on what you’ve contributed over the years.

  • Your widow(er) age 60+ (50+ if disabled)
  • Your widow(er) of any age caring for your child under 16 or disabled
  • Your unmarried children under 18 (19 if in high school)
  • Your disabled children 18+
  • Your dependent parents 62+

The amount each family member can get varies, but it’s typically a percentage of your SSDI benefit. There’s also a family maximum that caps the total amount your family can receive each month.

As someone who’s gone through the process, I know how crucial these family benefits can be. When health issues forced me out of work, my wife and kids were able to get much-needed support. It was a huge relief during an incredibly stressful time.

The SSDI Application Process

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can feel like a big task, especially when you’re already facing health issues. But don’t let that keep you from getting the support that’s rightfully yours.

As someone who’s been there, I’m here to walk you through it. Let’s demystify the process together.

Gathering Required Information

Before starting the application, make sure you’ve got everything you need in order. Here’s a quick checklist to help you out:

  • Your Social Security number and proof of age
  • Contact info for doctors, hospitals, clinics
  • Medication list and medical records
  • Lab and test results
  • Work history summary
  • Most recent W-2 or tax return if self-employed

Sure, it might seem like a lot at first glance, but having this info ready will really streamline the process. Trust me on this—spending a bit of time prepping now can save you loads later.

Completing the Online Application

Ready to take the plunge and apply online? Head over to the Social Security website and click “Apply for Disability.”

You’ll fill out a series of forms about your medical condition, work history, and daily activities. Take your time and be as thorough as possible. The more details you provide, the better SSA can understand your situation.

If you need to take a break, no worries. You can save your progress and come back later. And if you get stuck, don’t hesitate to call SSA or visit your local office for help.

What Happens After Applying?

Once you hit submit, your part is done for now. But here’s what goes on behind the scenes:

  1. SSA reviews your application for completeness
  2. They forward it to your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) office
  3. DDS gathers your medical records and may ask you to attend an exam
  4. A decision is made on your claim (on average, this takes 3-5 months)

If approved, you’ll receive a notice of award detailing your benefit amount and start date. If denied, don’t give up. You have the right to appeal.

I’ll be honest – the process can drag on and get complicated. But don’t lose hope or give up. I’ve been there, and I know it’s possible to secure the benefits you need for yourself and your family.

What to Do If Your SSDI Claim Is Denied

I know firsthand how devastating it is to get denied SSDI benefits after you’ve put everything into the application process. That sinking feeling when you open the rejection letter—I’ve felt that pain too.

But don’t throw in the towel just yet. A denial isn’t the end of the road. You have options.

Common Reasons for Denial

To begin with, let’s look at some typical reasons for claim denials. These often include incorrect information on forms, lack of necessary paperwork, and certain conditions that aren’t covered by policies.

  • Lack of medical evidence
  • Not following prescribed treatment
  • Earning too much income
  • Having a short-term or partial disability
  • Disability not meeting the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability

Reading your denial notice closely can help you understand why it happened and what to do next. Don’t hesitate to contact the SSA for more details if something is unclear.

Requesting a Reconsideration

If you disagree with the decision, your first move is to ask for a reconsideration. You have a window of 60 days from when you get the denial notice to do this.

When your disability claim is reconsidered, a fresh pair of eyes will review it. This person didn’t make the original decision and can look at any new medical evidence you provide to strengthen your case.

But here’s the hard truth – only about 13% of claims are approved at this stage. I know those odds seem daunting, but don’t let that deter you. Keep fighting for the disability benefits you deserve.

Hiring a Disability Lawyer

If your claim gets denied again, it’s time to bring in the experts—a disability lawyer. These attorneys know SSDI cases inside and out and can really make a difference.

A good disability lawyer will:

  • Gather strong medical evidence to support your claim
  • Help you navigate the complex appeals process
  • Represent you at a hearing before an administrative law judge
  • Fight for the disability benefits you need and deserve

The best part? Most disability lawyers work on contingency, meaning they only get paid if you win your case. And their fees are limited to 25% of your backpay or $6,000, whichever is less.

I get it; hiring a lawyer can feel really overwhelming. But trust me, it’s so worth it. I struggled on my own for months before finally getting help and honestly, I wish I’d reached out sooner.

The bottom line? Don’t let a denial stop you from getting the SSDI benefits you qualify for. With persistence and the right support, you can turn that no into a yes.

FAQs in Relation to SSDI Eligibility

What makes someone eligible for Social Security disability?

You need a severe medical condition preventing work, plus enough recent work credits. Check with the Social Security Administration.

What is the difference between SSDI and Social Security disability?

SSDI needs work history; SSI focuses on financial need without considering past employment.

What is the most approved disability?

Mood disorders like depression or anxiety often get quick approval due to clear medical guidelines.

Is it harder to get SSI benefits or SSDI benefits?

Earning enough work credits can make getting SSDI trickier compared to meeting income limits for SSI.


So, there you have it. The ins and outs of SSDI eligibility. It’s not always a straightforward process, but understanding the basics can make a world of difference. Remember, it’s all about the severity of your condition and how long it’s expected to last. And don’t forget about those work credits – they can be your ticket to benefits.

But here’s the thing: even if you don’t meet all the SSDI eligibility criteria right off the bat, don’t give up. There are always exceptions and special circumstances that the Social Security Administration takes into account. So if you’re still not sure about your SSDI eligibility, reach out to them directly. They’re there to help.

At the end of the day, dealing with a disability is hard enough without having to worry about financial stability. That’s where SSDI comes in. It’s a lifeline for millions of Americans, and if you meet the disability requirements, it can be a game-changer. So don’t be afraid to explore your options and fight for the social security disability benefits you deserve.

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ssdi eligibility