Can You Get Disability Benefits if You Have Never Worked?

The overlap between Social Security Administration benefits programs can get confusing.  SSI, SSDI, retirement benefits, concurrent benefits, survivors benefits, benefits for adults, benefits for children, benefits for widows and widowers… The list goes on and on.  Each benefits program comes with its own set of eligibility criteria, and the standards for employment can vary dramatically.  In this article, our disability attorneys will explain whether it is possible to qualify for disability benefits if you’ve never had a job, and how your personal finances impact the payments you can receive from the SSA.

Social Security Disability (SSDI) Work Credits

The two major types of disability benefits available through the SSA are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  Both are designed to make monthly payments to claimants who cannot work because they suffer from severe long-term disabilities.  However, while each of these programs has a similar purpose, the employment standards for qualifying are not the same.

SSDI is designed for people who have already paid into the social security system by working over the years.  The SSA measures a claimant’s work history with a “work credits” system, where most claimants, with some exceptions for young workers, need at least 40 credits to qualify for SSDI.

Credits correspond with the claimant’s earnings, and the amount of earnings which equals one credit changes from year to year.  In 2015, every $1,220 you earn gives you one credit.  Workers can earn up to four credits per year, which would represent $4,880 in earnings.

As you might infer from these eligibility standards, you cannot qualify for SSDI if you have never worked, because that means you have never earned any work credits.  However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options.  Even if you do not meet the employment criteria for SSDI benefits, you may still be a perfect candidate to receive monthly SSI.

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Can I Get SSI Disability Benefits if I Never Had a Job?

Unlike SSDI, SSI is not contingent upon how much work a claimant has performed in the past.  Instead, SSI is designed to help people who have limited income and resources.  Even if you have never worked before, you could potentially qualify for SSI as long as you meet the SSA’s other eligibility standards.

First, you’ll need to belong to one of the following groups:

  • You are at least 65 years old.
  • You are blind.
  • You have a severe, long-term disability.
    • This is by far the most complex and difficult standard to meet, since the severity of each claimant’s condition must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Toward that end, SSA medical examiners refer to the standards contained in the “Listing of Impairments,” which are different for every condition. Some common qualifying conditions in the Listing of Impairments include cancer, depression, and arthritis.  The SSA will also consider conditions which do not match or even necessarily appear in the Listing.
    • In broad terms, your disability (1) must be so severe that you cannot work, and (2) must have lasted or be expected to last at least 12 months, or be expected to result in death.

In addition to fitting at least one of these descriptions, you’ll also need to meet the SSA’s financial criteria for having limited income and resources.  This means two things: you can’t be earning too much money, and you can’t have too many assets.

SSA Income Limits for Disability Benefits

The 2015 monthly income limit for individual SSI claimants is $733.  This number is called the Federal Benefit Rate, or FBR.  The FBR represents not only the maximum earnings per month, but also the maximum payment a claimant can receive each month.  In other words, you can neither earn nor receive more than $733 per month.  The FBR for couples is higher: $1,100 per month.

If you earn more than the FBR, don’t panic.  You could still potentially qualify, because some of your earnings don’t count toward the FBR.  The SSA uses a complex formula to determine how much of your income is “countable,” and certain portions of your income and earnings are excluded.  For example, the SSA does not count any of the following:

  • The first $20 of your monthly income.
  • Income tax refunds.
  • Loans that you’re responsible for repaying.
  • Need-based assistance you receive from the state of Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
  • The value of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps).

Finally, you must also have limited “resources.”  Your resources include all and any of the following:

  • Cash
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Land
  • Vehicles
  • Life Insurance
  • Personal Property

Our Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Attorneys Can Help

If you need help applying for disability in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, call the disability lawyers of Young, Marr & Associates today at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.  We have more than 20 years of experience handling thousands of disability claims, and give free initial consultations.  We will keep your information confidential.

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