How will Social Security Consider my Past Work when I Apply for SSD Benefits?

The Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI or SSD) is a federal program designed to provide cash assistance to hard-working Americans who are injured or develop a serious condition and can no longer work. However, because SSD is a type of workers’ insurance program, to qualify, you must have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits. Provided that you can satisfy the program’s limits on income and have an injury or condition that is considered severe, many people wonder how their past work will affect their ability to obtain benefits. In reality, it depends on your condition, whether it is listed, and the step – if any – where your benefits application is approved.

The application process for Social Security Disability benefits is fraught with hurdles and difficulties. Going through the process is frustrating under the best of circumstances. In addition to reviewing your medical documentation and evidence, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will also examine your previous work history. Your work history is critical to determine if you qualify for benefits, the amount of your benefits, and whether you are reasonably employable with your impairment.

Our team of experienced Fayetteville AR disability lawyers are dedicated to assisting hard-working Arkansans who have suffered an injury or developed an impairment that prevents them from continuing at their job. To put over two decades of experience to work for you, call our law offices at (479) 316-0438.


The Social Security Administration maintains of list of conditions that it considers to be so severe that the presence of these conditions automatically qualifies the applicant for benefits at step 3 of the 5 step process. What this means is that if you qualify due to the presence of a listed condition alone, the SSA will not even consider your past work or your ability to do other work. However, you will still need to prove the presence of this condition by providing documented medical proof from a qualified physician.

This scenario represents the simplest handling of your past work, but approvals due to a listed condition are, overall, somewhat uncommon.


If the SSA determines that you have a severe impairment that limits your ability to do work but does not rise to the level of a listed condition, you will need to prove that you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential review.

Step 4 uses what is known as your residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine whether you could still perform past work. RFC is simply another way of describing the things and level of activity that you are still able to perform despite the severe injuries or impairments recognized by the SSA. Your RFC is determined by your documented medical impairments, reports by third parties familiar with your daily activities and limitations, assessments by state medical or psychological consultants, and reports by your treating physician.

At Step 4, the claims examiner will determine if you can perform past work. Past work includes work you did up to 15 years prior to the decision and productive mental or physical endeavors performed for pay or profit. However, you must have performed this work for long enough to understand how to perform the job. When the SSA determines if you can do past work the assessment is considered in light of how you performed the work in the past and how the work is typically performed in the national economy. If the claims examiner finds that you can perform the work as you did previously or how it is currently performed in the economy at-large, you will not be considered disabled. However, if it is determined that you cannot perform past work you will move on to step 5.

At Step 5, the SSA will consider whether your RFC will permit you to perform other types of work. When making this determination the SSA claims examiner will consider your education, age, and past work experiences. The SSA considers evidence of both formal and informal education and it generally considers communication problems or illiteracy as limiting educational factors. As for age, the SSA presumes that for workers under 50, age will not seriously affect adjusting to a new work environment. However, they will consider evidence when the claimant is aged between 45 and 49.

If your RFC does not permit you to perform the other work, you will be considered disabled by the SSA and you will qualify for disability benefits through the SSDI program.

Social Security Disability Insurance and Your Past Work History

Your work history will play a key role in determining if you are eligible to receive SSDI benefits.

Work Credits

First, your work history will indicate if you would be eligible for benefits if you had a debilitating medical condition. Taxpaying workers contribute to the Social Security Disability Insurance program through their payroll FICA taxes. One way to think about SSDI is as an auto insurance policy. You pay the monthly premium through your taxes and are covered when you need it.

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must be currently insured, or you have recently paid into the Social Security system. More specifically, you must have earned enough work credits.

Work credits are based on the amount of your wages. As of 2021, you can earn one work credit for each $1,470 of earnings. However, you can only earn a total of four credits each year. The amount of earnings per credit gradually increases each year as the average earning levels increase. Credits remain on your Social Security record when you change jobs or have no income for a short period.

How many work credits are enough? The answer depends on your age. For example, if you are over sixty-two, you will typically need forty credits to qualify for SSDI. Twenty of these credits must have been earned over the ten years before the onset of your impairment.

Claimants between the ages of thirty-one and forty-two will usually require twenty work credits, including the same ten-year requirement. The required number increases by one every year for someone between the ages of forty-three and sixty-one. For example, if you are forty-nine when you apply, you will need twenty-seven credits.

If you are under the age of thirty-one, things become more complicated. If you are under the age of twenty-four, you will usually need six work credits. However, the credits must have been earned over the three years proceeding the onset of your medical condition.

Claimants between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-one must have worked half of the time between the age of twenty-one and the date they became disabled. For instance, if you are twenty-seven, you must have worked three years and have earned twelve work credits.

The Amount of Your Monthly Benefits

In addition to determining if you are insured, the SSA will use your work history to determine the amount of benefits you will receive. Each year your employer is required to send a copy of your W-2 to the SSA to prove how much Social Security taxes were paid. The Social Security Administration tracks your earnings and the FICA taxes that were paid to determine what your monthly benefits should be. Typically, SSDI benefits range between $800 and $1,800. If you receive other forms of assistance, such as worker’s compensation, your benefits could be reduced. Our Arkansas disability attorneys are available to answer any questions you have regarding how your benefits are calculated.

Skills and Relevant Experience

The Social Security Administration will also look at your work history to determine your skills, abilities, and relevant experience. Typically, the SSA will look at the previous fifteen years when evaluating your skill set. For example, if you just started a job as a truck driver but had a decade of clerical experience, a condition that only prevents you from driving for long distances will probably not qualify for SSDI. On the other hand, if you have driven a truck for the last twenty-five years, it could be found to be a qualifying condition.

Work History and Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another program administered by the SSA that provides monthly financial assistance for individuals who are elderly, blind, or disabled. Unlike SSDI, SSI is not funded by payroll taxes. Therefore, the SSA will not look at your work history to determine if you have paid into the system. SSI is designed for people who have not paid into the Social Security system.

This does not mean that your work history might not impact your SSI benefits. To qualify, you must suffer from a medical condition or impairment that prevents you from earning a living. The SSA could evaluate your work history to determine if you have any marketable skills or experience. Furthermore, to be eligible for SSI, you must have limited income, assets, and resources. If you have not earned sufficient work credits due to time but still have substantial savings or other resources, you will not qualify for SSI benefits.

SSI benefits are often misunderstood. Many people who would otherwise be eligible due to their condition and limited resources fail to file an application for various reasons. You should not let your lack of work history or income stop you from contacting our helpful Bentonville disability lawyers. Your initial consultation would be free of charge and our office works on a contingency basis.

Our Experienced Arkansas Social Security Disability Lawyers May Be Able to Help You

For more than twenty years, injured Arkansans who can no longer perform the work they love have relied on our team of Crawford County Social Security Disability lawyers to fight for the benefits they deserve. For a free and confidential SSD consultation, call (479) 316-0438 today or contact us online.