Important: We fact-checked and updated this article in March 2023. Worried you won’t get approved for disability benefits? You may have heard it’s not easy if your illness doesn’t have visible symptoms. However, if you cannot work because of your condition, help is available to you. You can apply for monthly disability benefits from the federal government, which the Social Security Administration oversees. Approval for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) payments will provide much-needed income after you’re unable to keep working.
Curious about how the system works? Read on for some useful information right now! While none of this advice guarantees approval for disability benefits, it may prove quite helpful for those filing claims.
1. Don’t apply for disability benefits while you are still working.
Your chances of approval are better if you’ve already been unable to work for five months due to your illness or condition. Why? Because you must prove you cannot work due to your disability. However, if you experienced a sudden accident that makes it impossible to work, this rule doesn’t apply.
You must tell the Social Security Administration if your medical condition stops you from working. It will also want to know if you had to reduce hours before you left completely. The SSA will ask if you employer provided you with special help. Have questions about your claim? It may be a good idea to have a Social Security lawyer review it for free before you submit it to the government for approval.
2. Wait to apply until a doctor has already diagnosed you.
It’s not enough to simply state that you know you have a certain medical condition. A doctor must confirm your condition will last for 12 continuous months — or result in death. This condition must meet the SSA’s definition of disabled.
You can also have your claim denied if your doctor expects your condition to improve in less than 12 months.
3. Regularly seek treatment for your health problems.
To qualify for disability benefits, it helps if you’ve regularly talked about your symptoms with your doctor and sought treatment to help improve your condition. Documented evidence of regular appointments and progress notes are helpful for your claim. If you haven’t sought out treatment because you can’t afford a doctor bill, you can get a referral directly from the SSA office. To do so, schedule an in-person appointment.
4. Don’t apply unless you are unable to perform your job duties for 40 hours per week.
If you can still do the tasks in your job description, your claim will be denied. This is because your employer must provide “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Working part-time also tells the SSA that you can work… which means they will not approve your disability claim.
5. Apply for disability benefits only if you are younger than full retirement age (i.e., 67).
Depending on when you were born, full retirement age under the SSA varies. If you are full retirement age or older, you won’t be eligible for SSDI because you’ll simply get regular Social Security benefits.
6. Do not apply if your monthly income is over $1,470 (this doesn’t necessarily mean wages!).
Many people earn income even if they cannot actively work due to a disability. This money may come from child support, a spouse’s paychecks, alimony payments, interest you earned on investments, rental property income, royalties or other sources.
Your SSDI claim will be denied if your income is above $1,470 each month. This rule is in place so the program only helps people who truly need the money.
7. Be aware of your work history before applying.
This one is very important! If you have a spotty work history, you may get denied disability benefits. To qualify, you must first work in full-time jobs that withhold FICA taxes for 5-10 years. SSDI is like taking early retirement — and if approved, it’s the highest Social Security payment you can possibly get. Since your Social Security disability insurance policy pays the money after approval, that coverage lapses 5 years after you stop working. That’s why your work history gets considered when you submit your claim to the SSA.
This may also be an issue for seasonal or contract workers whose employers didn’t withhold Social Security taxes from their paychecks.
8. You can apply for disability benefits if your spouse is eligible for SSDI.
If you don’t have enough work history yourself, you may still qualify for benefits through your spouse. Widowed or divorced? SSDI benefits may be available to you if as you were married more than 10 years. If your spouse dies while getting SSDI, you may receive those benefits going forward. This is especially true if you’re raising minor children that you had with your former spouse. However, you cannot apply for survivor’s benefits until you’re 60 years old (or have children younger than 16 living at home).
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.