How to apply for disability benefits

Wheelchair in a hospital room

If you’re in a situation where you need to apply for disability benefits, there are a few things you should know. First and most importantly, it is a long process. The Social Security Administration estimates that it will take 3-5 months from the time you file an application until a decision is made. However, it is not uncommon for it to take as long as 6-8 months. In addition to that, approximately 70 percent of initial claims are denied and you have to go through the appeals process. If all goes smoothly, you can expect to start receiving benefits in about five months, but that rarely happens. In most cases it can take 6-12 months, sometimes longer, to start receiving your benefits.

And if you’re thinking of starting the process early, before you stop working or while you’re still receiving income from your employer, don’t bother. You don’t become eligible to file an application until after you stop working or your income drops below $1,180 a month. If you submit an application before then, it will be immediately denied and your next application will take longer to process since they’ll have to confirm you meet the application requirements the second time around.

Eligibility requirements

Before you even start this long process, save yourself a little time by confirming that you meet the eligibility requirements. If you don’t, your application will be denied and you’ll have to start over.

To be eligible for benefits:

  • You must have a condition or conditions that prevent you from working for twelve continuous months or expect that you will not be able to work for twelve continuous months.
  • Your condition or conditions must prevent you from being able to engage in any kind of work activity or limit the amount of work activity you can do which limits your income.

If your previous work required physical labor and you’re now only capable of a desk job earning less money but you can still work the same number of hours and you make more than the maximum income limit of $1,180, you will not qualify.

Disability benefits are not just for physical disabilities but for mental impairments as well. If you’re dealing with clinical depression, anxiety, autism, Asperger’s, or any other mental disability and you’ve met the time and income requirements, you can qualify for benefits.

Application requirements

If you feel you’ve met the requirements and you want to apply for benefits, this is the information you need to have to make the application process go smoothly:

  1. Birth Certificate
  2. Social Security number
  3. Names, addresses, and phone numbers of medical professionals you’ve seen (doctors, hospitals, rehab centers, etc.)
  4. Names and dosages of all medications
  5. Copy of your medical records
  6. Lab and test results
  7. Income verification (all sources of income) along with a summary of where you worked and the work you did and your most recent W-2 or most recent federal tax return
  8. Asset source information (life insurance, bank accounts, and investments)
  9. Proof of marriage or divorce (if applicable)
  10. Proof of military service (if applicable)

Once you have all this together, you can apply online at the SSA website, call their toll-free number (1-800-722-1213), or visit your local office. If you decide to go in person, you will need to make an appointment so call first. For any other questions specific to your case, you can find most answers by visiting the SSA website or calling them.

If you aren’t currently eligible for disability benefits or are trying to manage your finances until a decision is reached, consider speaking with a certified debt and budget counselor. They can help you create a spending plan and find resources to reduce your expenses and make ends meet. Counseling is free and available 24/7.

Tagged in Navigating change, Savings accounts

Emilie writes about overcoming debt, while balancing trying to eat healthy, stay fit, and have a little fun along the way. You can find more of her work at BurkeDoes.com.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.8/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Consumer Federation of America Consumer Federation of America
    MMI is a member of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.