The Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits programs can be confusing. SSI, SSDI, benefits for adults and children — the list goes on! Each benefits program comes with its own set of eligibility criteria, and the standards for employment can vary. 

disability benefits


We often hear the question, “Can I get disability benefits if I have never worked, or worked very little.” In this article, we’ll explain whether it’s 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.


What do SSDI work credits look like? 


The two major types of disability benefits the SSA offers are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Both programs are designed to make monthly payments to those who cannot work due to a long-term disability. Each program is similar in its purpose, however the standards for employment to qualify are not the same. 


SSDI is built for those who have already paid in the Social Security system by working over the years. This is determined by someone’s work history, via a “work credits” system. In most cases, workers need at least 40 credits to qualify for SSDI. Credits are correspondent with the person’s earnings, and the earnings that equal one credit vary year to year. For example in 2015, every $1,220 you earn provides one credit. Workers can earn up to four credits per year, which would total $4,880. 


Based on this information, you won’t be able to qualify for SSDI if you have never worked, as you will have never earned work credits. But this doesn’t mean you’re out of options! If you don’t qualify for SSDI, you could still receive monthly SSI benefits. 


Can I get SSI benefits if I’ve never worked? 


Unlike SSDI, SSI does not depend on how much you’ve worked in the past. Instead, SSI is designed to help those who have limited resources and income. If you’ve never worked before, you could potentially qualify for SSI, as long as you meet the SSA’s other eligibility requirements. Those requirements include: 


That last point is the most difficult to meet, since the severity of your disability is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The SSA has a list of “Compassionate Allowances,” which they use as a guideline to determine your disability. However, the SSA will also consider conditions that do not match the listings. To determine if you qualify outside of the List of Compassionate Allowances, you must prove that your condition is so severe that you cannot work, and the condition must be expected to last at least 12 months, or result in death. In addition to these three descriptions, you also need to fit the SSA’s financial criteria for having limited income and resources. In other words, you can’t be earning too much, and you can’t have too many assets.  


If you need help applying for SSDI or SSI, Disability Associates can help! We specialize in these two areas — in fact it’s all we do! And you won’t be charged unless we win your case. Visit our services page for more info, or contact us online today.