There are Two Types of Disability Programs. Different Programs for Different People.

One is based on your earnings.  All that money “you paid in.”  FICA – Federal Insurance Contribution Act
SECA – Self Employed Contribution Act
If you have no or very limited lifetime earnings, the other program might work for you.

The Program Based on FICA/SECA is called Social Security Disability Insurance. “SSDI”
“Title II” of the Social Security Act  (20 U.S.C. §404 et.seq.)

Most people think that while they’ve been working, they have built up a bank account that belongs to them. It’s my money and I want it now. Well, no. What you have been doing is buying insurance.  There is Retirement insurance, which is pretty easy to understand. There is Unemployment Insurance; again, easy peasy. Disability Insurance, not so much.  FICA, Federal Insurance Contribution Act, is a payroll tax that pays the premium for both Retirement and Disability. (This is how Unemployment works too – payroll tax.) Quarters of Credit. A work year is divided into four quarters – each is three months (Duh - 12 months divided by four.) In that quarter, you have had to earned a certain amount of money.  To be fully covered for 1 Quarter in 1978 you had to have earned $250 over a 3-month period.   In 2017 you have had to have earned $1,300 in a three-month period. In 2023, you need to earn $1,640 in a three-month period. Over your lifetime you need 40-quarters of credit to qualify for Retirement – that’s about 10 years of work.  It doesn’t need to be full time work.  Every month you reach that threshold, you get 1-quarter of credit.  If you did not earn that much over your lifetime, you don’t qualify. (There are rules for spouses of workers – but we’re keeping this simple.)  For Disability Insurance – and this is complicated— you have to have had 20 quarters of credit (about 5 years) within a 10-year period before disability started.

Think of this like car insurance.  Every quarter you work to that threshold, you get 1 Credit. You need to have 20-quarters prior to the date you had to stop working. If you pay your car insurance in December but stop paying in January, you are not covered if you have an accident in January.  But, if your accident was in December and you had paid for December, you are covered for accidents that happen in December even if you don’t have insurance in January.

If they (SSA) tell you that you do not have enough credits, that’s what they mean.  What they won’t tell you unless you specifically ask is when coverage stopped.  I have had a lot of clients come in in January (for example).  They were told that they did not have enough quarters. So, they gave up and went home for several months and then came in to figure it out.  What you need to know is not whether you are covered today but when coverage stopped.  So, for example, in July we discover that they weren’t covered in January but they were insured for years prior to January.  So as long as the disability started before January, they are eligible for benefits.