Updated February 28, 2019
Most applicants for Social Security disability benefits are denied for medical reasons—that is, the Social Security Administration (SSA) didn't find that their medical conditions were so severe that they couldn't work. However, a significant number of disability applicants instead receive what’s referred to as a “technical denial.” When a disability applicant receives a technical denial, this means that the applicant was found ineligible for benefits for non-medical reasons (and the SSA didn’t review even the medical evidence). According to Social Security, almost half of SSDI applicants and a quarter of SSI applicants receive technical denials. Here are some of the most common reasons for technical denials.
If you are currently working and have earnings above the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) limit, you'll be denied benefits before Social Security even looks at your medical evidence. The SGA limit in 2019 is $1,220. This applies to both SSDI and SSI claims.
If Social Security tries to reach you after you file an application for disability and it can't contact you or find you, the agency will eventually deny your claim.
In order to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you need to be under full retirement age and have paid a certain amount via payroll deductions into the Social Security system.
The most common reason that an SSDI claimant receives a technical denial is because he or she hasn’t worked long enough to have paid in enough to be covered under the Social Security disability program. How many years you need to have worked depends on your age. For instance, if you are 50 years old, you need to have worked seven years at a job that pays into Social Security. For more information, see our section on SSDI eligibility.
If you haven't worked in recent years, another reason you might receive a technical denial is that you were not found disabled before the date you were last insured. SSD insurance coverage will lapse after a certain amount of time if you stop paying FICA taxes into the system. The date your SSDI lapses is called the DLI (date last insured). As a general rule, you must have worked for five out of the last ten years to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. For instance, if you worked your whole life but stopped working exactly six years ago, your date last insured would have been exactly one year ago. If you can provide records that prove that your disability existed before your DLI, you may be able to successfully appeal the denial (see below). For more information, see our article on DLI.
Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a needs-based (low-income) disability benefit program. There are no past work or earnings requirements for SSI. However, to be eligible for SSI benefits, you must be under 65 and not exceed strict income and asset limits. Most technical denials in SSI cases are due to the applicant exceeding these limits. For information on the income and asset limits, see our section on SSI eligibility.
Most technical denials cannot be appealed. For instance, if you don’t have the work credits to be eligible for SSDI, filing an appeal will not change this. However, in some cases, such as if the SSA made an error in evaluating your income or assets, or if the denial was due to a paperwork error or a missing document, an appeal can be filed. Social Security disability denials must be appealed within 60 days of the date you received the denial. For more information, see our section on appealing a disability denial.