When you can no longer work because of a medical condition, you'd think getting disability benefits would be automatic. But that's not the case. You must first fill out an application for Social Security benefits—and how you complete the necessary paperwork can affect your claim.
The application for Social Security disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits isn't hard to file, but it requires a lot of information. This article shows you what you'll need and how to file for disability in person, over the phone, or online.
SSDI applicants have the option of starting their application for disability benefits online on the Social Security online filing page. SSDI is for workers who‘ve paid Social Security taxes into the system for a certain number of years.
Although most SSDI applicants can file for disability online, there are two exceptions:
If you fall into one of these two groups, you'll need to file your application for Social Security disability benefits by phone.
What about SSI benefits (the disability program for those with low incomes and few assets)? The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to complete your application for SSI online only if you're applying for SSI and SSDI benefits at the same time.
If you're not also applying for SSDI, you can start your SSI application online. But then Social Security will contact you to make an appointment for you to finish filing a paper application by phone or in person.
Even if you're eligible to apply online, you can opt to apply over the phone or in person instead. Phone and in-person applications give you the opportunity to ask questions while you complete the application.
You can also choose to hire a disability advocate or lawyer to help you file your application for Social Security benefits. For help figuring out the best way to file your disability claim, see our article on the easiest way for you to apply for disability benefits.
Social Security asks for a lot of information when you file an application for SSDI or SSI disability benefits. Gathering as much of this information ahead of time can make the application process faster and easier.
Start by writing down your work history for the last 15 years. Be sure to include the employer's name and contact information for each job, as well as all the following:
Whether you're applying for Social Security benefits online, in person, or by phone, you'll also need to gather as much of the following information as you can:
For a list of all the information you'll need to apply online, see our article on applying online for Social Security disability.
In addition to gathering the necessary information for the forms, there are some other things you'll want to do to make sure you're ready to file your Social Security disability application and improve your chances of success, including the following:
You can start your online application at ssa.gov. You'll be asked to enter basic information, including:
If you can't finish the application in one sitting, you can save your work and come back later. Just be sure to write down your application number so you can re-access your online application.
While you need to know a lot of information for the online disability application, it can make sense to start the application before you've gathered it all because the date you begin your online application counts as your filing date. And your filing date affects the amount of disability backpay you'll receive. (Learn more about when you should file your disability application.)
After you've completed your disability application online, a Social Security claims representative will likely contact you with questions about your application. (Learn about what not to say on a Social Security disability application.)
Just as with an SSI application for an adult, if you're applying for SSI for your child, you can't complete the whole application online. But you can complete the first step online: the Child Disability Report.
If you fill out the Child Disability Report online, a Social Security representative will contact you to complete your child's application for SSI over the phone. You can start the Child Disability Report here.
You might be most comfortable filing a disability application by contacting the Social Security office closest to where you live and telling them you wish to schedule an appointment to apply for disability. Some applicants like to have the help of a Social Security field representative when filling out the application.
If your local Social Security office is open, a representative will schedule an appointment for you to be interviewed. Social Security might conduct your interview in person at the local field office or over the phone. If you're scheduled for a phone interview, Social Security may mail paperwork to your home.
When you apply for disability benefits with the help of a local Social Security representative, the Social Security office will determine whether your disability application is for SSDI, SSI, or both.
You can call the National Social Security office at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0078) between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., local time. You'll speak with a representative who'll schedule an appointment for you to be interviewed over the phone at a future time.
Social Security will mail some paperwork to your home before the phone interview. During the phone interview, a Social Security field representative will ask you questions and help you fill out the application.
If you're filing online, you don't need an application form, and Social Security will send you any other forms you need by mail.
If you're filing in person or over the phone (using the paper application), you'll need to file several forms. Which forms you'll need depends on whether you're applying for SSDI or SSI disability benefits.
To apply for SSDI, you'll need to fill out the application for Social Security Disability Insurance (Form SSA-16-BK) and Form SSA-3368-BK, the Adult Disability Report. Visit these links for information on how to fill out these paper forms.
To apply for SSI, you'll need to fill out the SSI application, Form SSA-8000-BK, plus either Form SSA-3368-BK, the Adult Disability Report, or Form SSA-3820-BK, Disability Report-Child. The SSA doesn't provide a blank version of the SSA application online; you need to contact the agency to obtain the application.
Learn more about all of Social Security's disability forms here.
No matter how you decide to apply, you might find it helpful to read our free step-by-step guide to applying for Social Security benefits.
Updated May 4, 2023