When you work and pay Social Security taxes it is as though you are paying premiums on a disability policy through the Federal Government. For an individual that has worked and earned at least $4,640 per year in the 5 years prior to becoming disabled, that individual would have a date last insured of 5 years after he or she stopped working. Essentially, you must have worked 5 out of the previous 10 years in order to be fully insured. There are exceptions for workers under the age of 31. When you are fully insured, you can qualify for Social Security Disability benefits as long as Social Security finds that you meet their criteria for disability as of your date last insured. This does not mean that you must receive a decision prior to your date last insured, it just means that Social Security must find that your disability began on or before that date.
Here is an example: Assume that you have a date last insured of 12/31/11. That means that in order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, Social Security must find that you became disabled on or before 12/31/11. If Social Security finds that you are currently disabled but did not become disabled until 6/25/12, then you will not satisfy the criteria for disability benefits. However, if you have a date last insured of 12/31/11 and Social Security makes a decision on 9/13/13 finding that you became disabled on 6/1/11, then you will still qualify for disability benefits because your disability onset date is before your date last insured. It doesn’t matter when Social Security makes the decision, as long as they find that the date that you became disabled was on or before your date last insured. If you do not qualify for Social Security Disability benefits because you have not paid enough taxes into the system, you may still be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if you do not exceed the maximum allowable amounts for assets and household income.