How Do I Apply for Benefits? When?

How to get your claim started

The basics


  • Go to the website and look around on that page and just click on “apply for benefits” and follow the instructions you see there; or
  • Call 1-800-772-1213 and keep pushing zero until you get a human being.  Tell the human being you want to file a disability claim.  You may ask for a telephone claim, where the claims representative will send you the forms and call you, or an in office claim.
  • If you apply by telephone, your claims representative will tell you to mail your application in.  It is smarter to take it to the Social Security office and have them clock a copy for you so you can prove you filed it.


When you are ready to file, go to or call 1-800-772-1213.

Most people prefer to file online.

If you don’t like doing business online, you will probably like a phone appointment better than going down to the Social Security office.

Filing while you are working

If you are working now and you can see that you are going to have to file a disability claim, you might consider filing the first time you are out, even briefly:

  • the first time you are just out of work for a little while, file your claim, even if you plan to, and do, go back to work.
  • Why:  Because even though theoretically it only takes a few months to get a decision out of the Social Security Administration, as a practical matter, the first decision and the second decision are almost only denials. So, you need to file a claim as early as possible so that you can get the case moving forward to a hearing.
  • To give you an example, let’s assume that somebody knows he is going to have to come out of work in the next six months, he hangs on by his fingernails for six months, he finally let’s go and files a claim.  Okay, he’s maybe a year and a half, depending on where you are in the country, maybe two years, maybe a year away from a hearing.  But if he had filed when he realized that he was going to have to come out of work and then went back and struggled at work for six months, then at that point he would have shaved six months off of that long wait.  So, one thing you can do.
  •  The Administration generally will not take an application if you are working that day, but what you can do is if you are out for the briefest period, file, and then if you can crawl back to work, great.
  • Generally the Social Security will not even sort of realize that you are trying to work.
  • You will get in trouble of course if you accept money for a period of time during which you are working, but that comes later.  If they try to give you money for a period of time when you were working, you should generally not accept it.
  • This is a way to get the claim started a little bit earlier which will be a desperately important thing for people who living from hand to mouth.


Talking to a disability attorney before you file.

Before you apply you probably should just talk to a lawyer over the phone or sit down and talk to a lawyer.

  • Many lawyers will say “Oh, don’t worry about it, don’t file, see what happens and check with me if you get turned down.”
  • But think about it.  Let’s say you have been working 20 years at a job that maybe you could struggle and work at for a few more years
  • And let’s say you decide to finally let go and file for disability.
  • And you lose the claim.
  • You are now behind on your house and your car payments.
  • You then go and talks to a lawyer and only at that point he finds out what his odds or winning his case are
  • What if they are low?
  • What if there was something else you could have done beside file a Social Security claim?
  • What if you should have hung onto his job and maybe for example started paying into long-term disability insurance to get something that will start taking care of you right after you come out of work?
  •  So, it’s such a horrendously important step to step out of the workforce that if it was me I would sit down and talk to a lawyer before I ever got started.
  • And there are many, many steps it is wise to take before quitting work:
    • Try to elect or buy long term disability insurance
    • Get your debts paid down and put away some cash
    • Talk to your doctor and be sure he or she will back you up.
    • While you have insurance, get all testing done that might give hard objective evidence that you have a health problem, and that it limits you.
    • Make sure there are some witnesses at work, preferably in a management position, who will say you have done your best, but cannot work.
    • Explore educating yourself out of your disability
    • Explore finding a job that you can handle despite your health problems.
  • We are always glad to talk to people in that situation because it is such a terribly important thing.  Generally we don’t charge to do that and you can probably find other lawyers who would be willing to do that also.

Pros and Cons

Consider filing before you finally leave work.

Consider talking to a lawyer before you quit work.

Try to save up some money and pay down your debts

Get long term disability insurance if at all possible.

Be complete and be honest, but other than that don’t agonize too much over the quality of the application.

  • A lot of people agonize over the quality of their application
  • And other people of course don’t and maybe should.
  • Most people can handle the application.
  • If you are not comfortable reading and writing, that sort of thing, then maybe you will need somebody to help you with the application,
  • If you find you have to have help, we will be glad to do that for you
  • One common mistake is to agonize over the answers.
  • It can matter some, but it’s a slight exaggeration to say that as far as the details of the answer many times nobody even ever reads them closely.
  • But there are glaring exceptions and you can certainly put some things down that hurt you
  • As long as you use common sense you will probably be all right.
  • But be sure to come up with the detailed list of all of the healthcare providers, all of the medical evidence out there that is available that the Administration and you can get because if you don’t mention the evidence, obviously neither the Social Security Administration nor you can find it.


Consider filing before you finally leave work..

Consider talking to a lawyer before you quit work.

One of the most important things you can do is to be honest.

Another is to be clean.

In short, start doing everything your mother told you to do when you were six years old. Many judges have little sympathy for people who are not trying hard to help themselves.

Consider speeding up the claim by getting the medicals yourself.

  • Often the claim is delayed because it takes a long time to get the medicals.
  • You can speed that up by just getting the medicals yourself.

Get as much hard, objective evidence as you can.

  • Particularly if right now you have health insurance or you have some way of getting documentation of your problems, you want to do absolutely everything you can in the months leading up to the application and the time of the application to get good, hard, objective evidence.  The evidence that cannot be denied.
  • These are things like x-rays, MRI’s proving that you have serious problem.
  • You can win a case with subjective evidence, that is what you say you are feeling, things like that, but you want to get as much hard, objective evidence that the judge cannot deny as possible because that makes it much harder for the Social Security Administration to turn you down in the long run.
  • And often you can get that kind of evidence better before you quit working than you can when you stop working, you run out of money, you lose your health insurance, so you need to do that on your own.  If you are not sure that you have gotten everything you can get again, you might consider contacting a lawyer.

Pros and Cons

Consider filing before you finally leave work..

Consider talking to a lawyer before you quit work

A lot of people worry about whether they might be eligible.

  • There are two ways to find out.  One is you can sit down and talk to a lawyer.
  • The other is you can just go file and often they will tell you if you are eligible or not.
  • A good rule of thumb is to believe them if they say you are eligible, but don’t necessarily believe them if they say you are not.
  • For most people over 30, the critical part of the test for social security disability is that you have to have worked roughly five out of the last ten years.  It is more complicated than that
  • Sometimes if you are just one credit short, you’re just a little bit of earnings short, they’ll just say you are not eligible and you could scramble around and make a little bit of money and become eligible.
  • Any competent lawyer can do a calculation and figure out how much you have to earn.
  •  Similarly, if you haven’t worked, you can apply for SSI.  You have to show that you are broke to do that and sometimes you can just spend some assets and then you will be broke.
  • So, you should never take a statement that you are not eligible by the Social Security Administration as the final word without checking with somebody who practices law in this area.

Stop your bad habits

  • Sad to say, but it is not unusual for someone to apply for benefits because of psychological problems while indulging in a street drug habit.
  • The chances of winning such a claim are close to zero.
  • The same is true for people who are smoking who have lung problems, unless the problems are horrendous.
  • Or diabetics who have not tried hard to control their condition, if the problem is blood sugar control.