elderly couple discussing about the 5 year rule for social security in texas
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By Carey Thompson
Founding Attorney

Navigating the area of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can sometimes feel like deciphering a complex puzzle, especially when it comes to rules that determine eligibility. One such rule, often surrounded by questions and confusion, is the “5-Year Rule.” This guideline helps determine who qualifies for SSDI benefits based on their recent work history. This blog examines this rule and its impact on potential applicants.

Understanding SSDI: A Primer

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) serves as a safety net for individuals who, due to a disability, cannot continue working. It’s funded through payroll taxes and designed to provide financial assistance to those who have contributed to the Social Security system and now are unable to earn a living due to physical or mental health limitations. Eligibility hinges on having earned sufficient work credits, a measure of how long and how much one has paid into the system. Understanding the intricacies of SSDI, including work credits and the 5-Year Rule, is important for anyone looking to apply.

The 5-Year Rule Explained

The 5-Year Rule is a key aspect of SSDI eligibility. It requires individuals to have worked and contributed to Social Security for at least 5 out of the last 10 years before their disability began. This rule ensures applicants have a recent and significant work history, demonstrating consistent contributions to the Social Security fund through payroll taxes. For example, if someone becomes disabled in 2024, they must have accumulated sufficient work credits from 2014 to 2024 to meet the criteria. This rule is especially pivotal for younger workers, who may not have a lengthy work history. 

Generally, this requires that an individual contributed for five of the last ten years.  Technically though, one must contribute twenty of the last forty quarters.  It is possible to work only partial years and still contribute for the required time period.  However, a person cannot contribute in years he or she didn’t work.  So the general rule of 5 out of the last ten years is a good rule of thumb. 

Why the 5-Year Rule Matters

The 5-Year Rule underpins the SSDI program’s integrity, ensuring that only those who have recently and consistently contributed to the Social Security system through work can access benefits. This criterion helps prevent misuse of the system and ensures the program’s financial sustainability. For individuals with fluctuating work histories or recent entries into the workforce, this rule is an important factor in their eligibility for disability benefits. It emphasizes the need for a connection between the contributions made and the benefits received, highlighting the program’s nature as a form of insurance rather than a general welfare program. 

Navigating Around the 5-Year Rule

For those concerned about meeting the 5-Year Rule, several steps can ensure clarity and enhance eligibility for SSDI benefits. Reviewing your Social Security statement is crucial; it provides a detailed account of your work credits and earnings history. This review can reveal how close you are to meeting the required criteria. If your work history is near the threshold, understanding specific dates of employment and earnings can be pivotal. Additionally, seeking guidance from a Social Security attorney can offer personalized strategies to address any gaps or misunderstandings in your work history, potentially making a significant difference in the outcome of your application.

Help with Social Security Disability

At the Law Office of Carey Thompson, we offer seasoned guidance on SSDI claims, including navigating the 5-Year Rule. Our team is ready to provide the support and advice you need to secure your benefits. Contact us today for a consultation and take the first step towards securing your future.

About the Author
Carey Thompson has been practicing Social Security Disability Law Since 2008 after he graduated from Texas Wesleyan School of Law, now known as Texas A&M school of Law in Fort Worth, TX.  While at Texas Wesleyan he served on Law Review.  Prior to going to Law School, Mr. Thompson was a High School Band Director for four years using his degree in Music Education from Michigan State University.  Prior to Attending Michigan State, he attended Aledo Schools from Kindergarten to graduate.  Mr.Thompson feels strongly about serving the people of Tarrant County.