What's the Best Way to Apply for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Find out the quickest and easiest way to apply for disability benefits.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law

The first step to getting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits is to file an application with the Social Security Administration (SSA). There are four ways you can apply for benefits:

  • file for disability online through Social Security's website
  • complete the application over the phone with the Social Security Administration
  • complete the application in person at your local Social Security office, or
  • hire an attorney or advocate to file the application for you.

Read on to learn how to complete an application for Social Security disability using each of the methods above so you can decide which will work best for you.

Should I File for Disability Online?

Most adults can file a disability application online at the Social Security website. (Here are some tips for filling out the online application.) Applying online has many benefits, including the following:

  • You can avoid making a long trip to the Social Security office.
  • You can start your application immediately rather than having to wait for a scheduled appointment.
  • You can complete the application at a time and place that's convenient for you.
  • You can pause and return to your saved application as many times as needed.

Social Security now allows applicants to start online applications for both SSDI and adult SSI benefits. Previously, SSI applicants could file online only if they were also applying for SSDI and had never been married.

Now, you can start your SSDI or SSI application online if you:

  • are 18 or older
  • haven't been denied disability benefits within the last 60 days, and
  • aren't currently receiving Social Security benefits on your own work record.

You can complete the SSDI application process online. But if you're applying for SSI benefits, you can only submit some basic information to get your application started online. Then Social Security will contact you to set up an appointment to finish the process.

Applying online has many benefits. But it might not be your best option if you need help with your application. When you apply for Social Security disability online, there's no face-to-face communication and no opportunity to ask questions.

Completing Your Disability Application Over the Phone

You can apply for SSDI or SSI by telephone by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you're deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact Social Security at Social Security's TTY number, 800-325-0778.

If you choose to complete your application over the phone, you'll likely face long wait times. But once you get through, you'll speak with a Social Security representative, and you can ask questions.

Can You Complete an SSDI or SSI Application In Person?

If you need some assistance completing your SSDI or SSI application paperwork, you can apply for disability benefits in person. You don't need an appointment to get in-person services at your local Social Security office, but not having one can mean:

  • standing in line
  • longer wait times, and
  • delays in completing the application process.

You should contact your local Social Security office in advance to schedule an in-person interview to apply for disability benefits.

Hiring a Lawyer or Advocate to Complete the Application for You

The easiest way to complete your application for Social Security disability benefits may be to work with a lawyer or advocate who already knows Social Security's rules and regulations. A representative can:

  • walk you through every step of the process
  • gather and prepare the documents Social Security requires, and
  • answer any questions you have about your claim.

Disability attorneys and nonlawyer advocates know how to present your claim to Social Security in the way that's most likely to result in benefits being approved for you.

For more information, see our article about how a disability lawyer can help you get your Social Security disability benefits.

Learning More About the Social Security Disability Process

To learn more about the Social Security disability application process, including some steps you should take before you apply, see our article about filing for Social Security disability.

Or, if you're a book person, get a copy of Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability, by former SSA medical consultant and doctor David Morton. The book explains how to fill out the various forms required to apply for SSDI and SSI and the documentation you'll need.

Updated April 14, 2023

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