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What Is the Social Security Disability 5-Year Rule?

Mar 15, 2024 | Firm News

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides financial assistance to workers who become disabled and their families. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that 7.4 million Americans received Social Security disability benefits in 2023.

Unlike Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which supports people with disabilities or of advanced age who have limited means regardless of work history, SSDI is an earned benefit. Before becoming disabled, the worker must have paid into the Social Security program through taxes to be eligible for benefits.

When you apply or reapply for SSDI benefits, there are two five-year rules to remember: One concerns the work credit requirement. The other involves reapplying for benefits.

Qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance

The eligibility criteria for SSDI involve disability, income, and work history.

  • Your disability must meet the Social Security Administration’s strict standards.
  • Your income must be below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount. For 2024, the SGA is $1,550 per month for people with disabilities other than blindness (For blind people, it is $2,590 per month.)
  • You must also have earned sufficient work credits and worked recently enough. You must have earned enough work credits before you became disabled relative to your age.

The Five-Year Rule for Work Credits

The five-year rule for work credits helps people aged 31 and older determine whether they have enough credits to qualify for SSDI.

Depending on your income, you can earn up to four credits a year. In 2024, workers earn one Social Security and Medicare credit for $1,730 in covered earnings.

Under the five-year rule, people 31 and older must have worked at least five out of the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI.

You may work for less than an entire year and still earn the maximum credits. As long as you earned four credits through your income, it does not matter if you earned that income through seasonal work or worked all year. Also, high earners may earn all four credits after only a month of work.

So, per the five-year rule, individuals aged 31 and older must have earned at least the maximum work credits for five out of the past 10 years to be eligible for disability benefits. During that time, they must have accumulated at least 20 credits to qualify.

If you are 30 or under, you’ll need to use a different test to determine whether you have enough work credits to receive Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration determines your eligibility for benefits based on your age, and there are different rules for different age groups.

  • Those under age 24 need at least six credits earned in the three years before the onset of the disability.
  • People between 24 and 31 are eligible if they worked half the time between the age of 21 and when they became disabled.For example, a person who became disabled at age 27 must have worked at least three years, earning 12 credits, in the past six years.
  • Individuals 31 or older must have earned at least 20 credits in the last 10 years before the disability. This is known as the five-year rule.

The Five-Year Exception for Reinstating Benefits

In addition to the rule that helps people aged 31 and older find out whether they have enough work credits, a second five-year rule applies to past SSDI recipients seeking to reapply.

Per federal regulations, you must have a disability for five months before qualifying for benefits. But, this regulation provides an exception. There is no waiting period if you were previously entitled to disability benefits or had a period of disability within five years of the month you became disabled again.

Because of this five-year rule, you do not have to wait five months to receive benefits. However, the exception does not apply if a drug or alcohol addiction contributed to your disability.

Speak With Butcher Elder Law

If you seek disability benefits, Butcher Elder Law can prove indispensable. We can explain the rules to you, help you determine whether you could qualify for benefits, and assist you with your application. Call us at (440) 268-8284 or contact us to learn more about how we can help.