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.

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Disability applicants have four ways to apply for benefits. They can:

  • 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 the local Social Security office, or
  • hire an attorney or advocate file the application for you.

Filing for Disability Online

Most adults can now file applications online at https://www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/. Applying online has many benefits, including:

  • 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, and
  • You can stop and return to your saved application.

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

Now, all SSDI and SSI applicants can start the filing online if they:

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

However, after SSI applicants submit some basic information online, Social Security will contact them to set up an appointment to finish the process.

Applying online has many benefits, but for those who need help with their application, it leaves out face-to-face communication and the opportunity to ask questions.

Completing the Application Over the Phone

If you choose to complete your application over the phone, be prepared for long wait times.

You can apply by telephone by contacting Social Security at 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact Social Security at Social Security's TTY number, 800-325-0778, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Completing the Application In Person

In the past, Social Security encouraged applicants who need basic assistance in completing their paperwork to apply in person. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Security is still limiting in-person services in many field offices.

You may be able to complete your application in person at your local Social Security office depending on your location. The agency expects to provide increased in-person service to the public in April 2022.

You should contact your local Social Security office in advance to see if you can schedule an in-person interview to apply.

Hiring a Lawyer or Advocate to Complete the Application for You

The easiest way to complete your application for Social Security disability benefits is to work with a lawyer or advocate who already knows Social Security's rules and regulations. 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. A representative will also be able to walk you through every step of the process, gather and prepare the documents Social Security requires, and answer any of the questions you have about your claim.

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

Learning More About the Social Security Disability Process

To find out more about the disability application process in general, 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 that are required to apply for SSDI and SSI.

Updated February 18, 2022

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