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What Requirements Determine Eligibility for Social Security Disability?

Are You Eligibile for Benefits?


Updated May 05, 2014

Question: What Are the Social Security Disability Requirements?

It helps to learn about the Social Security Disability requirements before you get involved in the application process. Social Security Disability requirements are different than other programs which may grant benefits for partial or short-term disability.

What are the Social Security Disability requirements?


Your Medical Condition Determines Disability

Social Security pays benefits to you if you cannot work because you have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability.

You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. Don't wait -- it can take a long time to process an application for disability benefits (approximately 3 to 5 months).

To get Social Security Disability benefits, you must also meet two different earnings tests. One is called a "recent work test" that looks at your age when you first became disabled. The other is a "duration of work test" that confirms you worked long enough under Social Security to be eligible for benefits.

Recent Work Test

The recent work test considers when you became disabled and how that fell out in terms of calendar quarters. The calendar quarters are:

  • First quarter - January, February, March
  • Second quarter - April, May, June
  • Third quarter - July, August, September
  • Fourth quarter - October, November, December

If you become disabled in or before the quarter you turn age 24, you generally need 1.5 years of work during the three-year period that ends with the quarter your disability began. Confused yet? There's more.

If you become disabled in the quarter after you turn age 24 but before the quarter you turn age 31, you need work during half the time for the period beginning with the quarter after you turned 21 and ending with the quarter you became disabled.

If you become disabled in the quarter you turn age 31 or later, you generally need work during 5 years out of the 10-year period ending with the quarter your disability began.

Duration of Work Test

This test determines how long you worked by the age you were when disability began. For example, if you become disabled before age 28, you need to have worked for 1.5 years. If you became disabled at age 42, you need 5 years of work. Disabled at age 60? You need 9.5 years of work. In any of these cases, for the duration of work test, your work does not have to fall within a certain period of time.

Points to Remember

To receive Social Security Disability benefits, you must be disabled according to the definition of disability used by Social Security. You must also have worked long enough and a specified amount of your work experience must be recent.

If you cannot meet the requirements for disability, recent work, and duration of work -- you will not be eligible for benefits. If you do, you're ready to begin the application process.


Disability Benefits. SSA Publication No. 05-10029, November 2008, ICN 456000.

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