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How to apply for Social Security disability

You can apply online for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). You may want to assemble all the documents you need ahead of time; Social Security provides a handy, and lengthy, checklist.

You can also apply by telephone at 800-772-1213 or in person at your local Social Security office. If you want a Social Security representative to assist you with your application, contact your local office to schedule an appointment. 

For your SSDI application to be approved, you must demonstrate severe or total disability: an injury or condition that prevents you from engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (i.e., most work) and is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Social Security maintains a detailed list of impairments with additional information on how it evaluates disability claims.

If you believe you may qualify for SSDI, get the process started as soon as possible. In 2021 the average time to get an initial decision on a disability claim was more than five months. A majority of claims are denied at first, and the appeals process can take months, even years, due to a huge backlog of cases.

Keep in mind

  • If you want to apply online, you must not have had a claim for disability benefits denied in the previous 60 days, and you cannot already be receiving any Social Security benefits on your own earnings record.
  • Unlike with retirement benefits, your age does not affect your SSDI benefit. If your disability claim is approved, your payment is calculated as if you had reached full retirement age (the age at which you can receive 100 percent of the benefit you are entitled to, based on your earnings history).
  • “Substantial gainful activity” is defined by a cap on work income that changes annually based on national wage trends. In 2022 the limit is $1,350 a month ($2,260 a month for the statutorily blind). Outside of trial work periods and other programs designed to help SSDI recipients get back into the labor force, you cannot collect disability if you are earning more.

Updated April 7, 2022