Can You Get Disability Benefits if You Have Never Worked? (2023)

The overlap between different Social Security Administration (SSA) 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 general, you can apply for disability benefits without a work history, but you need to choose the right program or apply on a family member’s employment record instead. A lawyer can help you figure out if you are eligible based on someone else’s record or determine whether need-based SSI benefits are the best program to apply for.

For help with your disability application and eligibility, call our Pennsylvania Social Security disability lawyers at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates today at (215) 515-2954 in Pennsylvania or (609) 557-3081 in New Jersey. We offer free legal consultations.

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

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.

If you apply to SSDI, you usually need a work history that shows you have paid into the system before you can get benefits out of the system. SSDI is run like any other insurance program, with beneficiaries paying into the program so they can get benefits if they ever need them. However, many people can still qualify for SSDI benefits on a family member’s record, specifically for spouses or children who do not work.

SSI is not a credit-based system and is instead a need-based system. This means that you can usually apply to SSI as a last resort even if there is no other way to get disability benefits through the SSDI system.

(Video) Can I Get Social Security Disability if I Have Never Worked?

Applying for SSDI on a Deceased Spouse’s Record

Many non-working spouses play important roles in their family as caregivers for children or homemakers. If the working spouse has passed away and the non-working spouse becomes disabled, they may be able to get benefits using their deceased’s spouse’s record instead of their own. This only applies in limited situations, but it can help widows and widowers get the benefits they need, potentially at a higher rate than they would be able to get under SSI.

Unfortunately, these benefits are not available to everyone. You have to be between the ages of 50 and 60, and your condition must have already started before your spouse passed away or within 7 years after their death. This means that disabled spouses who rely on their spouse’s income can receive benefits if their spouse passes. This is also beneficial for spouses who perhaps receive a disability in the same accident that killed their spouse.

This is unfortunately limited in who it can cover, but it is one way to get disability benefits without work history of your own. If you are younger than 50 and your spouse has passed away, the SSA essentially expects you to return to the workforce on your own or to apply for SSI benefits instead of SSDI.

Applying for SSDI on a Parent’s Record

Disabled children can often receive benefits on their parent’s records, potentially on an ongoing basis. The rules are different for minor children and adult children, but both age groups can often receive ongoing benefits from SSDI on their parent’s record without needing to apply to need-based SSI programs.

Minor Children

If your child is disabled as a minor, they qualify as a dependent and can receive benefits from SSDI. Typically, the standards used to identify a disability are different for children and do not include restrictions on their ability to work since children are not of working age anyway. The medical definition used for any given health condition may also be less strict for children.

If your child’s disability continues into adulthood and their condition continues to qualify as a disability under the adult definition for their condition, they can continue to receive benefits on your record. If their condition does not meet the adult definition, then these benefits will end when the child turns 18. If your child goes to school full time, then the benefits will end when they graduate, leave school, or turn 19 – whichever happens first.

If your child has no work history and turns 18 without a qualifying disability, they may find it difficult to attend college or enter the workforce. If their condition gets worse and they do re-qualify, they may be able to apply for SSDI again as an adult child.

(Video) Can I receive Social Security Disability Benefits if I haven't worked in a long time?

Adult Children

Any child disabled before age 22 can typically apply on their parent’s work record. Many teens or young adults enter the workforce but are later diagnosed with a medical condition or involved in an accident that makes them disabled. If this is the case, you do not need to rely on your small work record and can instead typically apply on your parent’s record.

For this to work, you must be disabled before age 22 and your condition must meet the same standards for any other disabled adult. This means meeting a medical definition for your condition and having a condition that is severe enough that you cannot work because of it. These benefits are available whether the adult child has a work record or not since the SSDI application is based solely on the parent’s work record, not the child’s.

Usually, these benefits are allowed to continue indefinitely. However, people receiving SSDI benefits on their parent’s record cannot marry or hold significant assets in their name without potentially losing their benefits. The SSA essentially treats disabled adult children as dependents of their parents. If you have enough money or income to support yourself or have a spouse who can work to support you, the SSA will typically cut off the benefits being paid through your parent’s record.

Adults disabled before 22 could apply for SSI benefits if they do not have their own work record, but applying on your parent’s SSDI record might lead to higher benefits. If you do intend on getting married and leaving your parent’s SSDI benefits, SSI might still be available as need-based benefits, but benefits may be paid at a lower rate.

Getting SSDI Benefits for Non-Disabled Spouses and Children

Disabled workers can also get additional disability benefits for their children or spouses even if those family members are not disabled. The SSA commonly pays an additional 50-80% of the worker’s benefits to help support family members. This means you can receive disability benefits without needing a work history and without actually being disabled yourself, but only if they are paid because of your disabled spouse or parent.

Spouses qualify for additional benefits if they are 62 or older or if they care for your children (under 16 years old). These are the situations where the SSA has determined spouses should get additional benefits, typically limited to 50% of what you receive for your own disability. Spouses can receive potentially higher benefits if they have their own work record, but even if your spouse has never worked, these benefits are available.

These benefits are even available to divorced spouses in some cases.

(Video) Do People Get Social Security If They Never Worked or Paid Into The System

Benefits for children are also available when you receive SSDI even if your children have never worked. Benefits are typically available for children under 18. These benefits can be extended if your child turns 18 while they are still in high school, and they will end when they graduate/leave school or when they turn 19 (whichever happens first).

Again, if the child is disabled themselves, they might qualify for their own benefits on your record.

Typically, each family member is limited to 50% of your benefits, max, and the benefits are limited overall to 80% total for multiple family members. For example, if you are disabled and have a wife and no children, your wife may be able to receive the additional 50%. If you have a wife and one child, they might collectively receive up to 80% (rather than your wife getting 50% and your child getting 50%).

“Work Credit” Rules for SSDI Applicants

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 number 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.

Unlike SSDI, SSI isnotcontingent 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.

(Video) I've Never Worked. Can I Still Apply For Social Security?

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.

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 monthlyincome 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 canreceiveeach 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 Social Security Disability Attorneys Can Help

If you need help applying for disability in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, call thedisability lawyersof Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates today at (609) 557-3081 in New Jersey or (215) 515-2954 in Pennsylvania. We have more than 20 years of experience handling thousands of disabilityclaims and give free initial consultations. We will keep your information confidential.


Can you get disability if you barely worked? ›

You cannot get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits on your own work record if you don't have enough work credits, but you might qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. While the SSDI program requires applicants to meet a work credits requirement, the SSI program does not.

How do you answer a disability question? ›

How to Answer Disability Questionnaires
  1. Write clearly and legibly. Avoid erasures as much as possible. ...
  2. Do not leave any section of the form blank (unless otherwise specified). ...
  3. Give consistent answers. ...
  4. Answer the questions truthfully. ...
  5. Follow the instructions on the form.
Feb 27, 2022

What disqualifies a person from disability? ›

To qualify for disability benefits, a person must not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) earning up to a certain amount. If you are able to make more than the SGA, then you will not qualify. For 2022 the threshold is $1,470 per month. For an applicant who is statutorily blind the amount is $2,460.

What is the most approved disability? ›

What Is the Most Approved Disability? Arthritis and other musculoskeletal system disabilities make up the most commonly approved conditions for social security disability benefits. This is because arthritis is so common. In the United States, over 58 million people suffer from arthritis.

What happens if you don t have enough credits for Social Security? ›

We base Social Security credits on the amount of your earnings. We use your earnings and work history to determine your eligibility for retirement or disability benefits or your family's eligibility for survivors benefits when you die. We cannot pay benefits if you don't have enough credits.

How do I pass a disability interview? ›

Most importantly, be prepared to answer the following questions regarding your situation:
  1. Dates, addresses and contact information of your previous employment. ...
  2. Information on Doctors and Medication. ...
  3. Household information. ...
  4. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) ...
  5. Current Living Situation. ...
  6. Sources of Income.
Apr 26, 2017

What not to say when applying for disability? ›

5 Things Not to Say in a Disability Interview
  1. No one will hire me; I can't find work. ...
  2. I am not under medical treatment for my disability. ...
  3. I have a history of drug abuse or criminal activity. ...
  4. I do household chores and go for walks. ...
  5. My pain is severe and unbearable. ...
  6. Legal Guidance When SSDI Benefits Are Denied.

What is a better way to say disability? ›

Don't automatically refer to 'disabled people' in all communications – many people who need disability benefits and services don't identify with this term. Consider using 'people with health conditions or impairments' if it seems more appropriate.

Why do most people get denied for disability? ›

Many Social Security Disability claims are denied due to a lack of solid medical evidence. If you want to qualify for disability benefits you will need to prove that you are unable to work due to your disabling condition.

How can I increase my chances of getting disability? ›

Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting Disability Benefits
  1. File Your Claim as Soon as Possible. ...
  2. Make an Appeal within 60 Days. ...
  3. Provide Full Details of Medical Treatment. ...
  4. Provide Proof of Recent Treatment. ...
  5. Report your Symptoms Accurately. ...
  6. Provide Medical Evidence. ...
  7. Provide Details of your Work History.
Oct 20, 2019

What disabilities are hard to prove? ›

Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are qualifying disabilities that are difficult to prove. Having a long history of medical treatments and contact with a mental health practitioner can improve your case.

What is the easiest disability to prove? ›

Illnesses or injuries that are presumed to be service-connected are called presumptive disorders. They do not require additional proof of a service connection to qualify for compensation. Presumptive disorders include heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes.

What's the easiest thing to get disability for? ›


Arthritis and other musculoskeletal disabilities are the most commonly approved conditions for disability benefits. If you are unable to walk due to arthritis, or unable to perform dexterous movements like typing or writing, you will qualify.

At what age is it easier to get disability? ›

Winning a disability claim generally gets easier for people as they become older. This is particularly true for people over the age of 60. However, some older folks choose to apply for early retirement at age 62 or 63 rather than applying for disability.

Can you collect Social Security without 40 credits? ›

You must earn at least 40 Social Security credits to qualify for Social Security benefits. You earn credits when you work and pay Social Security taxes. The number of credits does not affect the amount of benefits you receive.

Do stay at home moms get Social Security? ›

Just because you don't bring home a paycheck doesn't mean you're not working. A stay-at-home parent can get a Social Security check just like any other worker.

Can I get SSDI if I haven't worked in 10 years? ›

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), 20 credits equals five years of work. Therefore, in general, to have enough credits to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have worked five out of the past ten years.

What not to say during disability interview? ›

Making Statements That Can Hurt Your Claim – Unless you are specifically asked pertinent questions, do not talk about alcohol or drug use, criminal history, family members getting disability or unemployment, or similar topics. However, if you are asked directly about any of those topics, answer them truthfully.

What is the first step of trying to get on disability? ›

Step 1 — Go to and select “Apply for Disability.” Step 2 — Fill out the Disability Benefit Application. Step 3 — Answer the disability questions. Step 4 — Mail or take the documents we ask for to your Social Security office.

What do they ask in a disability interview? ›

The SSA will want to know about your medical conditions and medical history. Prepare all contact information and dates of your most recent visits to share with the claim's specialist. They will use this information to determine your disabling conditions.

What can stop you from getting Social Security disability? ›

  • You Earn Too Much Income. ...
  • Your Disability Won't Last Long Enough or Isn't Severe Enough. ...
  • The SSA Cannot Find You. ...
  • You Refuse to Cooperate. ...
  • You Fail to Follow Prescribed Therapy. ...
  • Your Disability Is Based on Drug Addiction or Alcoholism. ...
  • You Have Been Convicted of a Crime. ...
  • You Commit Fraud.

Is it hard to get a disability? ›

Unfortunately, the majority of applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are denied. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the average acceptance rate of initial applications is 22 percent, and approximately 63 percent of SSDI applications are denied.

What conditions are considered a disability? ›

A person is disabled under the Act if they can't work due to a severe medical condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or result in death. The person's medical condition(s) must prevent them from doing work that they did in the past, and it must prevent them from adjusting to other work.

Is it better or worse to say you have a disability? ›

"Under the Americans with Disability Act, if you don't disclose the disability, the employer cannot accommodate you. I have found that if you disclose your disability at time of hire is better than disclosing in the interview process."

What do you call a person with disability? ›

Rather than using terms such as disabled person, handicapped people, a crippled person, use terms such as people/persons with disabilities, a person with a disability, or a person with a visual impairment.

Is it better to say you have a disability? ›

For a confidence boost, it's best to answer the disability question on a job application, if your disability is visible and will be in discord with the physical ability required for work.

What is the hardest state to get disability? ›

Oklahoma is the hardest state to get approved for social security disability. ... Arizona. Arizona is the second-hardest state to get approved for social security disability. ...

How many times can disability deny you? ›

The answer to the question, “How many times can you get denied for disability?” is there is not a limit established by the SSA for the number of times an applicant can submit a disability claim. However, the answer to the question, “How many times should I apply for disability benefits” should be one.

What are the disadvantages of being on disability? ›

  • Disability insurance can be expensive. Coverage costs more the older you get or the more dangerous your job is. ...
  • Policies can come with exclusions that don't cover pre-existing conditions. ...
  • Waiting period. ...
  • If you never experience a disability, you won't receive benefits.

Do most disability claims get denied the first time? ›

Home » Frequently Asked Questions » Does Social Security Disability Deny Everyone the First Time They Apply? No, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not deny everyone the first time they apply. However, it does initially deny nearly two-thirds of all Social Security disability applications.

What are the chances of being approved for disability? ›

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the disability approval rating at the initial application stage is roughly 36%. That means 6 out of every 10 applications for disability benefits will be denied. Approval ratings do, however, increase for cases that are appealed.

What are the odds of winning a disability case? ›

Nationally, about 54% of hearings are won by disability claimants, although this varies by state (see the map for your state's approval rates). Disability hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ) are conducted by the Social Security Administration's Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).

How can I prove I have a disability? ›

You can get evidence from your doctor or another medical professional. This could include: how long your impairment is likely to last and if it's likely to get worse.

What are the top three conditions that cause disability? ›

Illnesses like cancer, heart attack or diabetes cause the majority of long-term disabilities. Back pain, injuries, and arthritis are also significant causes.

How do you prove disabilities? ›

Statements or letters on a physician's/medical professional's letterhead stationary. Statements, records or letters from a Federal Government agency that issues or provides disability benefits. Statements, records or letters from a State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency counselor.

What is 20 work credits for disability? ›

In 2023 a worker must earn $1,640 to earn one work credit. In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you will generally need to have earned a total of 20 work credits, although there are age exceptions to this rule.

Can a stay at home mom collect Social Security disability? ›

The SSA sets strict limits on the total income a family can have, which include monthly income, savings, investments, and other assets. Stay at home moms and dads can still get Social Security disability, but it's typically hard.

How is Social Security disability calculated if you never worked? ›

SSDI Is Based on Employment

Unfortunately, if you've never worked, you will not be eligible to receive SSDI payments. The SSDI program is meant for people who are injured during their work, and the number of payments a person receives is directly related to their work and income history.

What is the lowest amount of Social Security? ›

For 2022, the special minimum benefit starts at $45.50 for someone with 11 years of coverage and goes to $950.80 for workers with 30 years of coverage. A financial advisor can help you plan your retirement taking into account your Social Security benefits.

What is considered to be a permanent disability? ›

Permanent disability (PD) is any lasting disability from your work injury or illness that affects your ability to earn a living. If your injury or illness results in PD you are entitled to PD benefits, even if you are able to go back to work.

Is having anxiety a disability? ›

Is Anxiety a Disability? Anxiety is considered a disability by the Social Security Administration (SSA). You may be able to qualify for Social Security disability with anxiety can qualify if you are able to show that you are no logner able to work full time because of your anxiety or anxiety-related disorder.

What is the lowest disability payment? ›

The benefit amounts are not based on the recipient's historical earnings but set by the federal government. In 2022 the federal SSI benefit rate is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for a couple. SSI is still available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Can I get SSDI if I only worked 2 years? ›

Typically, you will have needed to have worked 5 of the last 10 years to have enough work credits to quality for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). Usually, you need 20 work credits earned in the last 10 years.

How many years can you collect Social Security disability? ›

What Age Are You When Social Security Disability Stops? Social Security Disability can stay active for as long as you're disabled. If you receive benefits until age 65, your SSDI benefits will stop, and your retirement benefits will begin.

How much Social Security does a housewife get? ›

The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the worker's "primary insurance amount," depending on the spouse's age at retirement. If the spouse begins receiving benefits before "normal (or full) retirement age," the spouse will receive a reduced benefit.

Will SSI pay me to take care of my mom? ›

The SSA does not pay caregivers to take care of their loved ones who are on Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI). You could get paid as a caregiver to take care for a loved one with a disability, though through other programs there are other ways in which you could get paid taking care of a loved one.

When a husband dies does the wife get his Social Security? ›

Social Security survivors benefits are paid to widows, widowers, and dependents of eligible workers. This benefit is particularly important for young families with children.

Can you get Social Security income if you never worked? ›

Even if they have never worked under Social Security, your spouse may be eligible for benefits if they are at least 62 years of age and you are receiving retirement or disability benefits.


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