When Should I Apply for Social Security Disability?

Deciding when to apply for Social Security disability can be a very difficult decision to make for many people. First of all, be honest with yourself about your abilities and limitations. You are the one who knows what your body can handle both physically and mentally. You know whether it is feasible for you to work given your impairments. Secondly, there are some other issues you should be aware of before your make your decision about when to apply for disability. This article discusses several of those issues so that you can consider them as you make your decision.

When Am I Insured For SSDI And How do I Qualify for SSI?

You should be aware of your insured status for SSDI. Generally, you must have worked and earned at least 20 credits in the last 10 years to be insured for SSDI. Exceptions to insured status apply for those who are disabled and under age 31. In those situations, you can be insured for SSDI with fewer than 20 credits. You can check your work history on your My Social Security account.

It is possible that you were insured in the past for SSDI, but are not currently insured. You will need to know what your date last insured (DLI) was because you will have to prove that you became disabled prior to the DLI date. Do not delay in filing for disability in this situation since the longer you wait to file, the harder it is to prove your disability prior to your DLI.

If you are not currently insured for SSDI, you may be able to apply for SSI immediately if you have limited assets.  Insured status does not apply for SSI. Since SSI is a needs-based program, there are income and resource requirements that must be met to qualify.

Can Having A Protective Filing Date Help Me?

If are going to file for disability in the near future (six months for SSDI and two months for SSI), you can let Social Security know that you plan to file and you will have a “protective filing date” that will become the date you applied, even though you filed a few months later. The protective filing date can help you get more back benefits for SSDI if you are approved. For SSI, you can receive retroactive benefits back to the protective filing date, up to two months earlier than the date you filed your application, if you are approved.

What Is A Durational Requirement And Must I Meet It Before I Apply For Disability? 

There is a one-year durational requirement that you must meet in order to be qualified for disability under Social Security rules, but you do not have to meet it at the time you apply for Social Security disability benefits. You must be unable to work at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level, which in 2020 is presumed to be $1260 a month. You also must have physical or mental impairment(s) that have lasted for at least 12 months, are expected to last 12 months, or can be expected to result in death. 

Therefore, it is reasonable to file a disability application when your earnings drop below the SGA level or the day after you realize that you are disabled and have to stop working. It is also be appropriate to file for disability when you have been diagnosed with impairment(s) that require months of extensive surgeries, therapy, or treatment. If your prognosis is that your impairment(s) will keep you from working for at least one-year, Social Security is not prevented from awarding disability benefits before the one-year duration. With impairment(s) that do not have a clear prognosis, such as a heart attack or stroke, Social Security may wait a few months to see if your condition improves.  During this waiting period, you should apply for disability so that you are in a better position to get the most benefits if your condition prevents your return to work.

Can I File For Disability Before I Submit My Medical Evidence To Social Security?

You are responsible for providing medical evidence showing you have a medically determinable severe impairment(s) that are disabling. While medical evidence is key to proving your disability claim, you do not have to wait until you have submitted your medical records before you apply for disability. You have time to obtain medical evidence after you file for disability. In fact, Social Security will help request and get medical evidence from medical sources who have evaluated, examined, or treated the person for his or her impairment(s). But you may want to have a conversation with your treating doctor to explain that you have decided to apply for disability and to ask for their support. Having a treating doctor’s support is important as you work to prove your claim.

If you do not have a treating medical source or your medical evidence is inadequate,  Social Security may ask you to go to a consultative examination with an independent doctor who will submit a report to Social Security. 

How Long Is The Social Security Appeals Process?

Once you apply for disability, you should be aware that you could be waiting a long time for Social Security to make a disability decision. 

For an initial determination, it may very well take more than the 90-120 days commonly estimated by Social Security. Since a majority of the initial disability claims are denied, you may be facing a long appeals process. It is usual for processing time to be about two years on average to get an Administrative Law Judge decision. So, it would make sense for you to apply as soon as you can to avoid unnecessary delay.

Should My Own Financial Situation And Resources Factor Into My Decision To Apply For Disability? 

You absolutely should consider your current financial situation and think about what resources you now have that may not be available after waiting for an extended period, such as the two years during the appeal process. Having a stable residence where Social Security can mail notices to you, as well as having resources, such as a phone and a computer, will help you stay in contact with Social Security throughout the process. Having transportation so that you can get to your doctor is important as well. Having health insurance and regular medical care makes it much easier to obtain the medical evidence you need for your disability claim.  Some people wait until their financial situation becomes unstable before filing for disability, making the process even more challenging. 

Contact a Disability Lawyer for Help

If you need help deciding when to apply for disability, contact one of our disability lawyers at for a free consultation. When we represent you, we show our commitment by providing you with information, guidance, and support at every step.  We can be reached at 334-440-6261.