I got a call yesterday from a client whom Social Security had just approved for benefits. She had read her decision carefully and
had a question for me. The judge wrote in his opinion that the client had to show she was disabled as of 12/31/2019. This was her date last insured, or DLI. The client wanted to know if this meant that the benefits she had just started getting would end on the last day of 2019. I assured her that was not the case. She can remain on disability so long as she is unable to work. I understand her confusion. Other clients have asked me the same thing.
Your Date Last Insured Explained
So what is the DLI? Simply put, your DLI is the last day you are eligible for disability benefits. As the judge noted in his decision, you have to show you became disabled before that date. If you become unable to work after that, you are not going to get disability benefits. You could still collect SSI, however, because SSI does not require any work-related eligibility. SSI, however, is not nearly as good as disability for a variety of reasons covered in other blog posts.
How Does SSA Determine My DLI?
SSA determines your DLI by how long you have worked and paid into the system. The formula is a bit complicated and it varies by your age. But an easy way to understand it is that the longer you have worked, the longer you will remain eligible. If you have had a long work history before becoming disabled, your DLI should be many years in the future. Keep in mind, however, that there never comes a point when you are permanently eligible (unlike retirement benefits, which require 10 years of work to be "fully insured".) Your DLI is an always-moving target. But, once you stop working, your DLI is going to be fixed in place.
Don't Wait Too Long To Apply Once You Have Stopped Working
This can be an issue for people who wait a long time to apply for disability benefits. Many claimants think they are going to get back to work, so they delay applying. This is sensible. But, if these claimants wait too long, they could bump into their DLI. This suggests that it is prudent to apply for disability benefits right away. You can always drop your claim if you do get back to work.
DLI can affect your case in other ways. If your DLI is more than a few years in the past, it will be difficult to show you were unable to work before the DLI passed. It can be hard, for example, to get older medical records. In addition, I find that judges are not all that willing to go back more than a few years when deciding a disability claim.
Keep Working As Long As You Possibly Can
It makes sense to work as long as you can before applying for disability. One good reason to do so is to keep that DLI well out in front of you. Doing so will make your life much easier when the time comes that you cannot work and need to apply for disability. If you have questions about when to apply for disability, please let me know.