In order for most people to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, they must have worked for some amount of time during their lives. The idea is that because you paid into Social Security while you were working, you are able to benefit from it after suffering a disabling injury or condition that prevents you from working.
The Social Security Administration uses credits to measure how much a person has worked. For each $1,160 a person earns, he or she will receive one credit. A person can receive up to four credits in a year, and in general, the SSA requires 40 credits to qualify for disability benefits. At least half of the 40 credits must have been earned during the 10 years before a person became disabled. There are a few exceptions, though.
When a person becomes disabled before the age of 24, he or she only needs to have worked for three years and earned six credits. Those who become disabled between 24 and 31 must have been working at least half of the time since they were 21. For others, the Social Security Administration offers a chart that allows a person to match the age he or she became disabled with the number of credits needed to qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
While determining if you have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits sounds a little tricky, for most people it is as easy as knowing how old you were when you suffered a debilitating injury or illness. However, some young people — or those who have never worked — will not qualify for SSD. In that case, it may be worth looking into Supplemental Security Income, which provides benefits based on need.
Source: socialsecurity.gov, “Benefits Planner: Number of Credits Needed For Disability Benefits,” Oct. 28, 2013