Important: We updated this article in April 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. Ready to apply for Social Security disability? You have two choices — both cost you nothing, but option #1 greatly improves your chances for approval:
- Get a disability advocate or lawyer to help you apply for Social Security disability.
- Apply on your own directly through the Social Security Administration.
Having a professional file your claim is the best way to get the most SSD benefits you’re owed paid faster. SSD lawyers work on contingency, so you’ll pay nothing for professional help filing your claim.
Option 1: Get Professional Help With Your Disability Application
Here are some benefits you’ll get from choosing this option:
- You’re nearly 3x more likely to get benefits if an attorney files your paperwork. This data point comes directly from the federal Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. Keep in mind that 4 in 5 people who file SSD appeals also have attorneys at the hearing stage.
- Every year, the SSA denies 38% of applicants for reasons that have nothing to do with your health. If you accidentally leave a required field blank or write the wrong answer, it’s called a “technical denial.” That also applies to people who haven’t worked recently or earned enough work credits to qualify for SSD benefits. However, a lawyer can help you avoid errors and file your claim correctly the first time.
- The SSA approves fewer than 1 in 5 people who apply on their own for SSD benefits. In 2021, the SSA approved just 19% of first-time applicants for SSD benefits. A lawyer can review your situation and find federal, state, and local aid programs to help you right now.
- If the SSA denies your claim, a lawyer can fight to win you benefits at your appeals hearing. Once your application’s denied, you have 60 days to appeal. Many people denied the first time win SSD benefits on appeal. However, almost all those who do win on appeal have a lawyer for their case.
Option 2: Apply for Social Security Disability On Your Own
First, call or visit your local Social Security office and tell them you plan to apply for disability benefits. That gives you six months to complete and file your SSD application.
Then, gather convincing medical evidence. This can help prove you’re too disabled to work. The SSA needs to see your doctor’s signature on any medical records you submit, if possible. Your evidence must show:
- When your doctor diagnosed your disabling health problem(s). You can ask for a doctor’s letter that shows your condition’s start date and how your symptoms limit your ability to work.
- How often your doctor treats your condition. This could also be your chiropractor, physical therapist, psychiatrist, primary physician, occupational medicine doctor, physical rehab specialist, etc. Be sure to include any prescriptions you take, dosage, frequency, and strength.
- Your health issues keep you from working for at least 12 months or should result in your death.
Once you gather all required medical evidence, you have three ways to file on your own:
- Visit your local Social Security office and apply in person. Schedule an appointment if you can, or get there right when the office opens to avoid long wait times.
- Call your local Social Security office to complete a benefits interview over the phone. Don’t know the number? You can call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday to connect with your local office. Or, you can apply directly over the phone with a Social Security agent via the national 1-800 number.
- Apply online directly through the SSA’s website. You’ll first need to create a MySocialSecurity account before you can begin the application process.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to review our checklist of documents you’ll need to have handy when you apply for benefits.
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.