The Social Security Administration (SSA) says you should apply as soon as you are disabled. That said, there is no deadline or specific window. The sooner you apply, the better. You can apply the same day you become disabled if you’d like. Many people wait months or even years to apply until they are financially worse off. In some cases, waiting can even hurt your chances of approval.
Before You Apply, See if You Qualify
The most important factor to consider when applying for Social Security disability, isn’t when to do it, but will you qualify when you do. The two programs offering assistance to disabled people have different criteria you must fulfill in order to be considered.
Work History Affects Your Disability Determination
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program provides benefits to covered workers who become disabled. If you worked and paid Social Security taxes–required by law–then you are covered by Social Security. Being covered alone is not enough to help you qualify for Social Security disability insurance benefits.
Your work history must show that you have worked long enough and recently enough to receive them. Essentially, you must have the required amount of work credits to qualify, and a certain number of those credits must have been earned within a specific timeframe.
Credit requirements will vary depending on the age you were when you became disabled. Generally, younger people require fewer credits than older people, but the credit requirements exist on a sliding scale based on age.
Social Security Administration Must Deem You Disabled
The second requirement for SSDI is the disability requirement. You must be considered disabled by the SSA’s definition. A disability is medically diagnosed impairment that lasts or is expected to last a year and results in your inability to earn substantial gainful employment.
The SSI program does not have a work credit requirement; however, you must have low income and limited resources to qualify. Further, you must meet the criteria for disability or be blind or retirement age.
Social Security Administration Limits Your Income for Benefits
Your income must not exceed the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) to qualify for SSI. The FBR is the maximum monthly payment an individual can receive for SSI. That amount is $841 in 2022. That means you cannot have more than $841 a month to receive benefits.
While that amount may seem staggeringly low, the Social Security Administration does not count all of your income. It allows certain portions of your income to be excluded which will reduce your countable income.
In 2022, non-blind beneficiaries cannot earn more than $1350 to qualify for SSDI. This is because $1350 is the limit for substantial gainful activity (SGA). If you can make more than that amount, you are not considered to have a qualified disability.
Do Assets Count Against Your Disability Benefits?
Your assets do not figure into your SSDI benefits. However, to receive SSI an individual must not have more than $2000 in assets or resources. This includes bank accounts, property, stocks, bonds, and retirement plans. The home you live in, your primary vehicle, household goods, and personal items do not count as assets.
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The Sooner You Apply the Better
Application processing may take just weeks for some people, but most applicants end up waiting months to receive a decision. According to a story in AARP, the average process time was reported to be 168 days, roughly 5 months, in November 2021.
Additionally, many applicants are denied benefits the first time they apply. For these people, the time it takes to get approved is far longer as they must appeal the decision. This is primarily due to waiting for a judge to provide a hearing.
For SSDI benefits, there is a mandatory waiting period of five months. The wait period is usually five months from the date of your disability onset, not the date of application approval. This works out favorably for people who apply as soon as they are disabled. By the time you are approved, your waiting period would have expired, meaning you can start receiving disability payments more or less right away.
What to Expect When You Apply for Social Security Disability
When applying for Social Security disability benefits, either online, in-person, or over the phone, there is certain information you will need to supply. Knowing what to expect will facilitate the process by helping you prepare in advance and ultimately may speed things up. Documents you will have to provide may include:
- Birth certificate or alternate proof of birth
- Proof of citizenship
- W-2 or self-employment tax returns
- Applicable medical evidence in your possession
- A medical release form for the SSA to obtain your medical records
- Military discharge papers
- Income documentation
Additionally, you will also need to have the following information on-hand to either provide during your disability interview or input online:
- Names and birthdates of children and/or spouse
- Marriage and divorce dates
- Contact information for a trusted person in case you cannot be reached
- Bank account information for direct deposit if you want to recieve benefits this way
- Employer information for current and previous years
- Names and contact info for medical care providers
- Dates of medical visits, examinations, tests, treatments, etc. and who sent you to have them
- List of medical conditions
- List of medications, their purposes, and prescribing physician
- Date your disability began interfering with your work
- Job history as it pertains to the types of jobs you used to do and duties you performed prior to disability
- Education and training
- Workers’ compensation information if you receive it
Remember, the more information and documentation you are able to supply upfront the better. As much as possible, you want to help your claims examiner assess your disability status so that they have less digging to do on their own which may cut down your processing time.
Get the Benefits You Need with Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC
Be aware that supplying the necessary information does not guarantee you will be awarded disability benefits. When you should apply for disability will ultimately depend on your personal situation, but in general the sooner you get started the better off you’ll be.
A Social Security disability lawyer at Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC who is well-versed in the application process can help you apply for disability benefits or appeal a denied claim. Call (828) 286-3866 for legal assistance today.