What Does Social Security Disability Require?
An Application Checklist:
Question: Am I currently working?
Many people call me because they feel they will not be able to keep working because of their declining health. It is wise to anticipate the end of your working days. But, you cannot apply for disability until those working days are over. Some people think that because it can take years to get through the system, they will apply for disability now and by the time they finish the process, they will be ready to collect. Good thinking. But, it won't work.
Question: Am I making more than about $1,100 per month?
Social Security considers you to be working if you earn roughly $1,100 per month. Below that, you can still apply for benefits. This means that while still employed, you could try switching to part-time. Or you could look for part-time work while your disability application is pending.
Question: Do I have a medical condition, or a combination of medical conditions, that would interfere with my ability to work and earn more than about $1,100 per month?
Social Security considers medical problems to be “severe” if they present more than a trivial interference with your ability to work. That sounds more promising than it proves to be. Even if Social Security categorizes your medical problems as severe, you still have to show you cannot work. It is important to note that it is the totality of your medical conditions that determines if you can work.
You do not need to present with one medical problem that keeps you out of the workforce. It is more likely that you will have a series of medical conditions, some of which are not even related, that keep you from working full time. For example, a person could have arthritis in her hands as well as back pain. While these two taken separately might not be enough for Social Security to find her disabled, the combination might. I always tell people that there are no unimportant medical conditions when applying for disability. The loss of hearing in one ear, for example, might be the one, last thing that convinces Social Security that you can no longer work.
Question: Are the medical conditions that interfere with my ability to work going to last for 12 months or result in my death?
There is no such thing as short-term disability from Social Security. If you have terrible injuries from a car crash, for example, and cannot work for 6 months, Social Security is not going to find you disabled. Whatever is keeping you from working will have to last for at least 12 months. If your condition is likely to lead to your death, however, then it does not matter how long you have had it. If you get a terminal diagnosis, apply right away. There is no need for delay to see if you will still be alive in one year.
Question: Do I have to be a certain age to apply? Can I Be Too Old To Apply?
You can apply for disability benefits at any age up to full retirement age. For most people, full retirement age is going to be between age 66 and age 67. https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/agereduction.html No one is eligible for benefits after they reach full retirement age.
Keep in mind, though, that the younger you are, the worse off you are going to need to be for Social Security to approve you. If you are below the age of 50, you are going to have to prove that there is no work of any kind—no matter how simple, no matter how sedentary—that you can do. That is a tough burden to meet. The closer you get to full retirement age, the more likely Social Security is to approve your application. Above 55, for example, you will likely only have to prove you cannot go back to any of the work you did in the 15 years before you became unable to work. Social Security realizes that at this age, you are unlikely to learn a new trade or return to school.