How Do I Apply for SSDI Benefits? 8 Tips to Apply for Social Security Disability

by Lori Polemenakos   ·  3 months ago  
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SSDI, or “Social Security Disability Insurance” is a program that pays out a monthly living stipend for Americans with disabilities that prevent them from working. Designed for workers who are no longer able to keep their jobs, this program provides a financial safety net for nearly 10 million Americans across the country. If you need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits, here’s what you need to get started and navigate the application process.

Am I Eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

The eligibility requirements for SSDI can be strict, due to the nature of the program. Because SSD benefits are only available for Americans who can no longer work to support themselves, as many as 47% of applicants are denied for SSD benefits.

If you meet the following Social Security program rules, you may be eligible for SSD benefits:

  • You have a disability that prevents you from performing “Substantial Gainful Activity” to earn an income
  • You earn less than $2,590 if you’re blind or $1,550 if you’re sighted
  • You have paid Social Security taxes and have sufficient work credits to qualify

If you qualify for SSDI, take advantage of the program and start the first steps to apply for disability payments.

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you’re looking for information on how to apply for SSD, you have two choices — both cost you nothing, but option #1 greatly improves your chances for approval:

  1. Get a disability advocate or lawyer to help you apply for Social Security disability.
  2. Apply on your own directly through the Social Security Administration.

Having a professional file your claim is the best way to get the 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 to work with an SSD lawyer instead of filing the application on your own:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. If the SSA denies your claim, an SSD lawyer can fight to win you benefits at your appeals hearing. Once your application is 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

If you intend to apply for SSD benefits 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How to File a Social Security Disability Benefits Application

There are three ways you can submit your SSD benefits application: online, in person, and over the phone. Here’s a quick look into each of these methods and what you can expect.

Apply for SSD in Person

To submit an application in person, stop by your local Social Security office and speak to a Social Security representative. Major metro areas are likely to have several offices you can visit, so you’ll have multiple options on where to visit. However, if you live in a more rural area, you may need to drive a greater distance.

If you file for Social Security Disability benefits in person, an SSA representative will be on hand to give you information on the filing process. They’ll be able to give you any necessary forms and answer some of the basic questions you might have. They also may be able to let you know if any information is missing from your application.

If you’re planning to apply for SSD benefits in person, consider calling ahead to get an idea of the wait time and so their team can let you know where to go and what to bring.

Check the SSA office locator tool to find the closest Social Security office near you.

Apply for SSD By Phone

If you don’t want to visit your local Social Security office in person, you can also apply for SSD benefits over the phone. This option can take more time but is great for individuals who can’t go in person and have unreliable internet access.

To submit a phone application, call the SSA number. From there, the Social Security Administration will take down your personal information and transfer you to your local office. You’ll be given information about what documents you need and what information you should have ready, and they’ll schedule an appointment for you to call back at a later date to go over the information. This will also give you time to mail any necessary copies of identifying documents and medical records.

  • SSA Phone Number: 1-800-772-1213
  • SSA TTY Number: 1-800-325-0778

Apply for SSD Online

Applying for disability benefits online is one of the fastest and easiest ways to submit your application. If you have mobility issues or otherwise don’t wish to visit an office in person, you can instead visit the SSA website and fill out the application there.

If you apply online, you’re not required to fill out the application all at once, but you should fill it out within two months of starting the process, as the date you begin the application counts as your filing date.

Though you’ve applied online, you may still be asked to mail copies of medical records or other documents. Be aware of the next steps when applying for SSD benefits online so you can stay ahead of your to-do list.

What Information Do You Need For the Application Process?

When you apply for Social Security Disability, there are several documents and pieces of information that you’ll need to complete the process. Have the following information on hand to streamline the process:

  • Your social security number and proof of age
  • Names and dosages of current medications
  • Medical records
  • Any lab and test results that support your diagnosis
  • A summary of your past work experience and why you are no longer able to work
  • Your most recent W-2 or federal tax return
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors and hospitals who have treated you for your disabling condition

Tips & Strategies to Improve Your SSD Application

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).

Work With an SSD Lawyer

The application process for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be complex and overwhelming for many individuals. It often requires extensive documentation, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of the program’s eligibility requirements. Make the process–and your odds of success–better by working with a disability lawyer to improve your application. Remember, applying for SSDI is a complex process, but with the right approach and resources, you can navigate it successfully and secure the financial support you need.

How Do I Apply for SSD Benefits? 10 Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program providing monthly financial support for Americans unable to work due to disabilities.

2. Who is eligible for SSDI?

SSDI applicants must have a disability hindering their ability to work, meet income thresholds, and have paid sufficient Social Security taxes.

3. How do I file for SSDI?

You can apply online, in-person at your local SSA office, or by phone. Consulting a disability lawyer can significantly increase your chances of approval.

4. How does an SSD lawyer help?

They navigate complex regulations, ensure paperwork is correct, gather necessary medical evidence, and represent you during appeals if necessary.

5. What documents do I need to apply?

Essential documents to apply for SSD include your social security number, proof of age, medical records, tax returns, and information about your medical condition and employment history.

6. How long does the SSDI application process take?

The process can vary but generally takes three to five months from application to approval, but it can take longer if your application requires further review.

7. How long do SSDI benefits last?

SSDI benefits continue until you are able to work again on a full-time basis, or until you reach retirement age, at which point they convert to Social Security retirement benefits.

8. Can I work while receiving SSDI?

Yes, but you must abide by the SSA’s substantial gainful activity (SGA) guidelines, which set a limit on how much you can earn while still receiving benefits.

9. What if my SSDI application is denied?

If your initial application is denied, you have 60 days to appeal. Having a disability lawyer greatly improves your chances of success in the appeals process.

10. Can I receive SSDI and other benefits simultaneously?

It is possible to receive SSDI along with other disability benefits, like those from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), depending on your eligibility for those programs.

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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.