The Case of the Disappearing Credits (and other Social Security mysteries)

detective“I worked for 20 years! Why don’t I qualify for disability?”

We often hear from clients outraged because they spent many years in the workforce, but don’t meet the Social Security guidelines to have their conditions considered in disability claims. We also hear complaints because they know of someone who did not work nearly as long, but who is receiving benefits. How can this happen? Let us explain.

As a person works, they earn “credits” for Social Security (assuming they paid Social Security taxes through their job). These credits are based on a person’s wages. This year, a worker receives one credit for each $1,200 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year. The amount of salary needed to earn a credit goes up slightly every year as average earnings increase. There are special rules for those whose net annual income is less than $400.  Also, while military personnel earn credits the same way civilian workers do, they may get extra credits under certain conditions.

Some other rules apply to specific circumstances, such as domestic or farm employment or work for a church-affiliated organization that does not pay Social Security taxes. But we digress.

You need to accrue a certain number of credits to be eligible for disability benefits, depending when you became disabled. Becoming disabled before age 24 means you need six credits (1-1/2 years of work) in the three years prior to stopping work. Those ages 24-30 when the disability starts need credits for half the time between age 21 and the onset of the disability. Those 31 or older usually require at least 20 credits in the 10 years before the disability began.

But as a person goes without working, their disability coverage through Social Security starts to lapse because they stopped paying Social Security taxes — in other words, your credits disappear. If you stopped working six years ago, your disability coverage ended one year ago; five years ago, it ends about now; four years ago, it ends a year from now. If you’ve been out of work longer that that, your date last insured was even earlier. This mean that if your disabling condition(s) began after that, you would not be eligible for disability no matter how bad the impairment. People whose financial resources are very low, however, can be eligible for disability on that basis without ever having worked.

Confused? That’s understandable. One of our attorneys would be happy to meet with you face to face and unravel the mystery of Social Security disability. Let us take a crack at your case!