Social Security Disability



Social Security Disability is available to U.S citizens who have earned enough working credits to qualify. SSDI provides benefits to disabled or blind persons who are “insured” by workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust fund. These contributions are based on your earnings (or those of your spouse or parents) as required by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). Title II of the Social Security Act authorizes SSDI benefits. Your dependants may also be eligible for benefits from your earnings record. Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI). The SSI program makes cash assistance payments to aged, blind, and disabled persons (including children) who have limited income and resources. The Federal Government funds SSI from general tax revenues. 



What is the earliest age I can receive Social Security disability benefits?



There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict Social Security definition of disability. But to qualify for disability benefits you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits.

You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise. The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. The rules for how much work you need to qualify for disability benefits are as follows:

  • Before age 24--You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31--You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
  • Age 31 or older--In general, you need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below. Unless you are blind, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.



Born after 1929,
Become Disabled At Age
Number of Credits You Need
31 through 42
62 or older




How Do We Define Disability?



The inability to engage in any substantial gainful work activity (SGA) because of a medically- determinable physical or mental impairment(s):


    • That is expected to result in death, or

  • That has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Note: There is a separate definition of disability for children (under age 18) who are applying for the SSI program. A disabled child also qualifies for the SSI employment supports described later in the Red Book.




What is Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)?



We use the term “substantial gainful activity” to describe a level of work activity and earnings.


Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. For work activity to be substantial, it does not need to be performed on a full-time basis. Work activity performed on a part-time basis may also be substantial gainful activity.


“Gainful” work activity is:


  • Work performed for pay or profit; or

  • Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or

  • Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.



We use SGA as one of the factors to decide if you are eligible for disability benefits. If you receive SSDI benefits, we use SGA to decide if your eligibility for benefits continues after you return to work and complete your Trial Work Period (TWP). If you receive SSI benefits based on disability, we apply different standards to determine if your eligibility for benefits should continue. For details on how we calculate SSI benefits, SSI Only Employment Supports .



We do not use SGA as a factor to determine initial eligibility for SSI benefits if you are blind.




How do we evaluate your work activity for SGA purposes?



We generally use earnings guidelines to evaluate whether your work activity is SGA .


The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind persons. If your impairment is anything other than blindness, earnings averaging over $1000 a month (for the year 2011) generally demonstrate SGA. If you are blind, earnings averaging over $1,640 a month (for the year 2011) generally demonstrate SGA for SSDI.




What if you are self-employed?



If you are self-employed and your disability is not blindness, the way we evaluate your work activity for SGA purposes will depend on whether we evaluate your work activity before or after you have received SSDI benefits for 24 months and the purpose of the evaluation. We will apply either the Three Tests or the Countable Income Test to determine if your work activity is SGA, depending on when you work.



The Three Tests:


We apply three tests to evaluate your work activity when you initially apply for SSDI and before you have received SSDI benefits for 24 months. We will also use the three tests to evaluate your work activity during the re-entitlement period to determine if we can reinstate your benefits in the Extended Period of Eligibility (see page 30). Your self-employment work activity is SGA if:



  • You render significant services to the business, and you had over the SGA level ($1000 in 2011) average monthly income; or



  • Your work is comparable to the work of persons without disability in your community engaged in the same or similar businesses; or



  •  Your average monthly work is worth the SGA level earnings in terms of its effects on the business or when compared to what you would have to pay an employee to do the work.




The Countable Income Test:


  •  We apply the countable income test if you have received SSDI benefits for at least 24 months. We will only use the countable income test to determine whether you have engaged in SGA and if your disability has ended as a result of that SGA.



  • We will compare your countable earnings to the SGA earnings guidelines. If your monthly countable earnings average more than $1000 (in 2011), we will determine that your work is SGA unless there is evidence that you are not rendering significant services in the month. If your monthly countable earnings average less than $1000, we will decide that your work is not SGA.




If you are self-employed and your disability is blindness, we decide SGA based on whether you have received a substantial income from the business and rendered significant services to the business. We make this determination using your countable earnings. We also use your countable earnings to determine whether your work is SGA and we can reinstate benefits during the Extended Period of Eligibility.



If you are self-employed, your disability is blindness, and you are age 55 or older, special rules apply. If your earnings demonstrate SGA but your work requires a lower level of skill and ability than the work you did before age 55, or when you became blind, whichever is later, we will suspend, not terminate, your benefits. Your eligibility for SSDI benefits continues indefinitely, and we pay your benefits for any months earnings fall below SGA.





If you can't work because of an illness or injury, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. please call the Law Offices of Michael R. St. Louis for a free consultation at 781-816-3950 or contact us online.



Si el español es el unico idioma, por favor pongase en contacto con nuestro traductor Eneria Noguera al 508-839-2376 o contactenos en linea.

Attorney at Law