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Social Security Disability Rules and Regulations

by Megan Roth5 min read
Social Security Disability Rules

In order to be eligible for disability benefits, it is important to know and understand the Social Security disability rules and regulations. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine your eligibility by examining factors such as medical and financial conditions.


Social Security Disability Rules: Eligibility Through Medical Condition

 Social Security benefits are only given to persons with total disability, not partial or short-term disability. Social Security disability rules and regulations have specified a strict definition of disability; to be considered disabled, a person should meet the following criteria:


  1. Social Security’s listing of impairments

 Social Security maintains a list of medical conditions that determines the severity of your impairment. If your disability is not included in their list, SSA will decide whether or not your condition is in equal severity with a condition on the list.
Moreover, your condition should have lasted or is expected to last for at least a year or may result in death.


  1. Unable to do work that was done before

The SSA will determine if your medical condition is severe enough to keep you from performing duties that are required in your previous work. If they find that you are no longer capable of doing light or minor work, and your past job required medium exertion (which is the required level of work to be able to lift about 25 lbs regularly and 50 lbs occasionally), then SSA will deem you unfit to return to past work.


  1. Incapable of doing any type of work

 The SSA will assess how your disability limits your capacity to work and determine which work-related activities you are still capable of doing. SSA will take into consideration your age, education and skills.


Social Security Disability Rules: Eligibility Through Financial Condition

Apart from meeting Social Security’s definition of disability, you must also have worked long enough in jobs covered by Social Security. This means that you have paid the required Social Security taxes for the years that you have been working. You should also be working consistently in the recent years, and your Social Security insurance has not yet expired due to quitting work too long ago.


There is also a required number of work credits to qualify for the benefit, which depends on how old you are when you become disabled. The amount needed to earn one credit is computed yearly. For 2017, you’ll get one credit for every $1,300 of salary or self-employment income. If you earned $5,200, you’ll get four credits, which is the maximum for each year. Generally, the requirement is 40 credits, and 20 of these should have been earned during the last 10 years until the year you became disabled.


SSA conducts two types of tests to determine if you made enough contributions to qualify for disability benefits.

  1. Recent work test


This test is based on your age at the time of disability. For instance, if you became disabled at 31-years old or above, you should have worked at least five of the last 10 years in order to qualify in this test. If you became disabled at 24-years old, you should have worked at least one year and a half during the three-year period before you became disabled.

  1. Duration of work test


This test determines whether or not you have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The table below shows the required years of work for a specific age.


Age you became disabled Years of work needed
Below 28 1.5 years
30 2 years
34 3 years
38 4 years
42 5 years
44 5.5 years
46 6 years
48 6.5 years
50 7 years
52 7.5 years
54 8 years
56 8.5 years
58 9 years
60 9.5 years



The SSA also takes into consideration your income in determining your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. While there is no limit on the amount of assets or unearned income, there is a limit on income from employment.


social security disability rules


According to Social Security, if you can engage in substantial gainful activity or SGA, you may not be eligible to receive the benefits. If you are earning more than a certain amount monthly, this means you are engaging in SGA. Social Security disability rules consider the national average wage index in setting the income limit for SGA. To qualify for the benefits, income should average less than $1,170 per month for persons with disability and $1,950 per month for blind individuals.