If you're applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or SSI as an adult, you can begin your application process online with Social Security's online application. Before you start the application, you should gather the information together that you'll need to complete it.
Follow these tips to have the best chance of getting your initial application approved.
To apply online, you'll need the following information handy:
If you're missing any of the information, you can either save the application and return to it later, or you can provide the information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) at a later date.
You will be assigned an application number as soon as you start the online application process. You must keep track of this number. If you need to stop the application process and return to it later, you'll need this number to access your online application. You will also need your application number when you call the SSA to track the status of your application, or to track your application online. If you lose your application number, the SSA has no way to retrieve it, and you will have to start over.
When you state your place of birth, choose "United States or U.S. Territory" if you were born in one of the following places:
If you are a citizen, you must also tell the SSA whether you are:
If you were born in any other place than those listed above, select "Other." Names of countries may change over time; therefore, select the name of your country as it was when you were born. For example, if you were born in the former Yugoslavia, select that name from the list.
The SSA may ask you to prove your citizenship or otherwise show you are eligible for benefits. Even if you're not a citizen, you may still be eligible (you can learn more by reading our article on immigrants and disability benefits).
The online application will ask if you were in military service prior to 1968. You should answer "yes" to the question about military service if you served prior to 1968 in Active Duty, Active Duty for Training, or in the Reserves in any of the following branches.
You must provide the name of the branch of the military you served in, your dates of service, your current status, and your position.
You will also need to provide information about any benefits you receive, or are eligible to receive, from your military service or from a civilian federal agency.
The SSA now requires that disability recipients have a bank account to allow for direct deposit of benefits. If you don't have an account, call the SSA to see if there are any options for you, including using a DirectExpress debit card or getting an exemption from the Department of the Treasury. You can still complete the application online.
The SSA will ask whether you agree with your most recent SSA earnings statement. If you don't have a copy, you can continue to the next section. However, before you submit the application, make sure you request a copy from the SSA so you can review it. You can also access your statement online, but you will need to create a Social Security account.
If you've received any money from your employer since you last worked, you must provide the SSA with the amount. You must also tell the SSA if you expect to receive any money in the future from your employer, and how much the payments will be. In both cases, you will need to describe the payment as sick pay, vacation pay, or other.
You need to tell the SSA if you provide at least half the support for one or both of your parents. The SSA will ask you to provide the name and address of the parent(s) you support.
The online application will ask about the medical conditions that keep you from working. It's important that you list every medical condition that you suffer from because the SSA will consider the combined effect of all your impairments on your ability to work (see our article on how to win your claim using a combination of impairments). In addition, some illnesses qualify for automatic approval (see our article on winning your claim using a "listing").
At the end of the application, the online application will ask you whether you consent to have your medical records disclosed to the SSA. You must select "yes" if you want the SSA to collect records on your behalf.
The SSA provides an area at the end of the application for you to provide any additional remarks you may have that you think are helpful. For example, you may need to provide an explanation if you estimated your employment dates or income amounts. You don't need to complete this section if you don't have anything additional to add, but some people use this section to describe how their life has changed since they became disabled (if you do add comments here, keep them brief and to the point).
Once you start your application, you must sign and submit it to the SSA within six months or you will have to start over again. Also, as long as you submit the signed application within the six-month time frame, the date you began the application can be used as your official application date.
The application process can be lengthy and confusing, and the details you include about your medical conditions are very important. Getting legal help at the initial application stage can give you a better shot at getting benefits in just three or four months, rather than being denied and having to go to an appeal hearing a year later. Disability representatives collect a one-time fee, only if you win benefits (the fee is a maximum of 25% of your back pay, up to $7,200).
Unfortunately, many law firms won't take a disability case until you get denied. But a disability advocacy firm will generally help you fill out the application and stay with you throughout the claims process. They can:
Most importantly, they can help you accurately but persuasively fill in the details about your disability onset date, your physical limitations, and your prior work responsibilities.
If you do decide to get professional help with your application, you probably want to choose a firm with disability lawyers who can represent you if you get denied and have to go to a hearing. Most firms will schedule a free consultation with you to go over your situation.
Updated April 18, 2023