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Importance of Work History for Social Security Disability Benefits

  • Published: 2009-08-26 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-17) : Author: Allsup
  • Synopsis: Work history plays an important part in your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Quote: "One of the basic qualifications when applying for SSDI benefits is that you must be currently insured, which means that you have recently paid into the disability insurance program."

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As SSDI applications grow, claimants can benefit from understanding the role of their past employment Work history plays an important part in your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare services.

As SSDI applications grow, claimants can benefit from understanding the role of their past employment

Work history plays an important part in your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare services.

"You might feel that your injury, disease or condition is obvious enough to make you eligible for disability benefits, but the type and amount of work you've done throughout your career is another major factor in the disability benefits you may receive," said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of claims at Allsup.

The Social Security Administration recently reported that more than 3.3 million people are expected to file for disability benefits in fiscal year 2010, resulting in a 27 percent increase over fiscal year 2008.

"More people are applying for disability benefits, and there's a strong likelihood that people don't understand how their work history factors into this process," said Mr. Stein. The SSA follows a five-step sequential process to evaluate applications for disability benefits, and examiners make decisions based on medical documentation, age and work history, among other factors.

SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that operates separately from the retirement and SSI programs. SSDI provides monthly benefits to individuals who are under full retirement age (age 65 or older) and who can no longer work because of a disability (injury, illness or condition) that is expected to last for at least 12 months or is terminal. Individuals must have paid FICA taxes to be eligible. More details are provided in the SSDI Overview on Allsup.com.

Disability Benefits and Four Keys of Work History

To help individuals understand the importance of their work history, Allsup outlines the following four key components that someone's work experience plays in their disability application.

1. Work history indicates if you are currently insured. As a taxpaying worker, you have been contributing to the federal Social Security Disability Insurance program through your payroll (FICA) taxes. "You can look at this like paying your auto insurance premiums," said Mr. Stein. "A portion of every paycheck goes to the Social Security Administration's retirement and disability program through those taxes."

One of the basic qualifications when applying for SSDI benefits is that you must be currently insured, which means that you have recently paid into the disability insurance program. Specifically, you must have paid for 20 quarters in the past 10 years to qualify. You can "buy a quarter" by earning a certain amount during a specific calendar year. For example, if you earned $1,090 in 2009, you bought a quarter. If you earned, $1,050 in 2008, you bought a quarter. You can earn up to four quarters in one year. In the past 10 years, you must have purchased at least 20 quarters or more to qualify for SSDI benefits. Individuals disabled before age 31 have lesser requirements.

2. Work history indicates if you are fully insured. This is a second qualifier that you must meet in order to be considered for SSDI benefits. There are two ways to determine if you are fully insured. The first method is to determine if you have 40 quarters of coverage. (Note: You can earn up to four quarters each year.) Having 40 quarters of coverage means you are fully insured. A second method is to have six quarters of coverage, plus one quarter of coverage for each year after the year you reach age 21. To help illustrate, someone who is 27 years old likely only needs 12 quarters of coverage to be fully insured.

3. Work history is used by the SSA to determine whether you are disabled. A decision about your disability claims is not solely based on your medical condition. At steps along the way in the SSDI process, federal examiners look at your ability to perform work that you have done in the past as well as your ability to perform any work. In particular, your employment experiences during the past 15 years are the most relevant to the evaluation of your SSDI claim. (Read more about general disability guidelines on Allsup.com.)

4. Work history also is used by the SSA to determine your amount of benefits. Your employer is required to send the SSA a copy of your W-2 form each year to show the amount of Social Security taxes paid. The SSA tracks your earnings and taxes paid, and when or if the time comes, this information is used to determine your SSDI benefits and retirement benefits. (Read more about understanding your Social Security statement on Allsup.com.)

If you're not certain you are eligible for SSDI based on your work history, you may contact the Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 279-4357 for a free evaluation. An Allsup professional can help you determine if your past work experiences, earnings and current medical conditions may qualify you for SSDI benefits.

Reference: Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and workers' compensation services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009, Allsup employs about 600 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit www.allsup.com

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