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Social Security Disability and Retirement Benefit Eligibility Explored

Social Security is a federal program of benefits that will touch the lives of most Americans at some point.  Social Security benefit payments supplement the income of retirees, disabled persons, and families in which a spouse or parent dies.

How Social Security Works

Approximately 159 million employees work and pay social security taxes. These taxes fund benefit payments to the nearly 55 million people who receive monthly benefits. About 85% of every social security dollar goes to fund retiree payments while the remaining 15% funds disability payments.

In order to be eligible for Social Security benefits, workers need to accumulate approximately 40 social security credits. Credits are based on earnings: workers can earn up to four social security credits per year. In 2012, the Social Security Administration granted one credit for every $1130 in earnings. The earnings threshold required to earn a Social Security credit increases almost every year. 

Retirement Benefits

In general, workers need 40 Social Security credits (approximately 10 years of work) to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. Benefits are based on lifetime earnings: higher earnings result in higher benefit payments.

Workers can retire at the full benefit level when they reach normal retirement age. For those born before 1938, normal retirement age is 65. For those born between 1938 and 1959, normal retirement age gradually increases from age 65 and two months to age 66 and 10 months. Normal retirement age is 67 for anyone born after 1959. Workers can elect to take a reduced benefit when they reach age 62 and anytime before their normal retirement age.

Disability Benefits

Disability benefit payments supplement the income of a person who has a total disability and no longer can work. Workers disabled for social security disability purposes:

  • No longer can do the work they did before they became disabled;
  • Cannot do another type of work because of their disability (this is determined by the Social Security Administration);
  • Are expected to be disabled for at least a year, or to die as a result of the disability.

Forty social security credits are required to qualify for disability benefits. Twenty of those credits must be earned in the 10 years ending with the year in which the disability occurred. However, under certain circumstances, younger people can qualify with fewer credits.

Survivor Benefits

Survivor benefits are benefit payments paid to survivors—spouses, ex-spouses, dependent children—when a worker dies. The number of social security credits required in order to be eligible for survivor benefits depends on the worker’s age at the time of death. The younger the worker, the fewer credits are needed. Nobody needs more than 40 credits (ten years of work) to qualify for survivor benefits.

Surviving spouse and dependent children still may be eligible to receive benefits if the worker did not have the required number of credits. Survivors may receive monthly payments if the deceased worker earned at least six social security credits in the three years prior to death.

Understanding and applying for Social Security disability benefits can be quite confusing. Claims often are denied to first-time applicants. If you have been denied Social Security disability benefits or have questions about the application process, you owe it to yourself to contact a Harrisburg Social Security disability attorney for assistance. Please contact a Harrisburg disability lawyer at Schmidt Kramer Injury Lawyers toll-free at (888) 476-0807 for a free case review.