To be eligible for SSDI benefits an individual must:

  • Be determined medically disabled by SSA rules;
  • have limited income or not be working; and
  • have insured status either as a former worker, or disabled widow/widower of a spouse who is a former worker. Minor children of former workers and their non-disabled parent may receive benefits on the former worker’s record.

What is “limited income”?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates income eligibility based on a monthly threshold known as Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). An applicant must earn under this threshold to be considered disabled.

The Substantial Gainful Activity threshold is increased annually, as shown on the table below.


How does a former worker earn “insured status”?

To establish insured status for benefits an individual must work and pay Social Security FICA taxes. This will earn “work credits,” up to a maximum of four a year.

In 2013, an individual earns a credit for each $1,160 in wages or self-employment income. This amount is increased annually.

The amount of work credits needed for insured status depends on the age the individual became disabled.

  • Before age 24 –– An individual may qualify with six work credits earned in the three–year period ending when the disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31 –– An individual may qualify by working half the time between age 21 and the time they become disabled.
  • Age 31 and older –– In general, an individual will need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below. Unless the individual is blind, 20 of the credits must be earned in the 10 years immediately before becoming disabled.
Born After 1929
Become Disabled
at Age
Work Credits Needed
31 - 4220
62 or Older40

Visit Social Security’s Disability Benefits Planner for more information.

How can a spouse or dependent receive “insured status?”

A beneficiary’s Social Security account not only insures them for disability or retirement, but it can also cover dependent family members.

A spouse may qualify may qualify if he or she is:

  • age 62 or older; or
  • divorced and age 62 or older and married to the beneficiary for at least 10 years prior to the divorce; or
  • under age 62 and caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled prior to age 22.

Unmarried children of a beneficiary may qualify if they are:

  • under age 18; or
  • Age 18 or over and disabled before age 22.

A spouse or dependent generally receives a monthly benefit equal to 50% of the primary beneficiary’s benefit amount. However, this can be limited due to a family maximum calculated by Social Security.