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Ask Atticus: Should I Wait Until I'm 50 to Apply for Disability?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
March 31, 2023  ·  3 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard-trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience and has helped over 50,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

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Dear Atticus,

I struggle with anxiety, back pain, and severe COPD. I’ve been working part-time at a department store and I keep missing shifts due to my symptoms. I'm thinking about applying for disability benefits but some folks have told me to hold off until I'm closer to 50. It sounds like my chances of getting approved might be better at that point. I don't want to wait to apply, though. I’m struggling now. Should I just go for it and apply now or wait until I'm 50? Can I apply again if I don't get approved now?


Waiting in Wyoming

Dear Waiting in Wyoming, 

If your condition makes it difficult to work, we recommend you apply now. There are few reasons why. First, most people don’t get approved on their initial application (at any age!). Chances are you’ll need to appeal, which can take up to two years.

Second, waiting to apply may impact your eligibility — especially if you end up leaving or losing your job. SSDI is specifically for people who have a recent work history and you'll generally need to have worked at least five out of the last 10 years. If you find yourself unable to work and you wait to apply, you might lack the necessary amount of work credits to qualify.

Now, it’s true that SSDI can be easier to get after age 50, but starting your application now will move you further along in your process by the time you are 50.

And even if it takes awhile to be approved, you start accumulating “back pay” from the time you apply. While the rules of back pay are complex, it generally means you’ll be paid a lump sum for the period of time between when you were eligible, and when you were approved. In 2023, the max benefit you can make is $3,627 per month for SSDI and $941 per month for SSI.

Long story short, applying now reduces the overall amount of time until you’re covered. It improves your chances of meeting the technical eligibility for SSDI. And it gets you on track to start accumulating back pay, which will be paid out once you’re approved.

So don’t push through when you’re in pain! You’re entitled to support. There’s no limit to the number of times you can apply, and no penalty for applying again later if you choose to withdraw your application.

A quick refresher on eligibility

Let’s dive in a little deeper with a refresher on eligibility rules before and after 50.

For SSDI, the eligibility rules change once you reach the age 50. Prior to 50, applicants have to prove their disability prevents them from being able to perform any job. After 50, they only need to show that their disability prevents them from performing the jobs they previously held.

You can create a mySSA account to understand the technical eligibility requirements for SSDI, and it will also allow you to access your work history and check your work credits.

Why does this matter? To qualify for SSDI, you must have a certain number of work credits, based on the amount of money you’ve earned in the years leading up to their disability. And, your work history may be used to determine whether or not you’re able to return to work with your disability. By taking a look at your work history and credits, you’ll be better able to understand your technical eligibility for SSDI and determine if you’ll qualify.

Bottom line: Make sure to be as informed as possible when applying for SSDI – by learning the eligibility rules, you’ll increase your chances of a successful application. (See our Guide to SSDI for a comprehensive overview of the process and tips and resources.)

Just one more thing to know: Your condition does impact results. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, for example, it may be more challenging to win benefits. However, if you can prove multiple conditions, you are more likely to qualify. (See our list of conditions here).

First things first, head to a doctor

If you haven’t already, make sure to schedule an appointment with a physician. While your doctor can’t place you on disability, it’s important to establish care. A doctor can make sure you’re getting the right treatments for your health, as well as provide diagnosis and medical evidence of your condition. This will be necessary for the SSA to determine if you’re eligible.

And, a doctor's opinion can be important in determining the severity of your condition and whether or not you are able to return to work. Without evidence documented by a medical professional, it would be difficult for the SSA to approve your case.

Why you may want to hire a lawyer

I often get asked, “Hey Atticus, will I need a lawyer for my disability?” While not all people will require legal support, the data shows that claimants who work with a lawyer have an increased likelihood of getting benefits.

Here’s how a lawyer can help your case:

  • Legal know-how: A quality disability lawyer has years of experience in the legal process and clearly understands the requirements for filing a disability claim. They’ll be able to guide you through the process and make sure your claim is filed on time.

  • Evidence presentation: A disability lawyer can help gather and present the necessary evidence to support your claim, including medical records, statements from your doctor, or other documentation that showcase the severity of your disability.

  • Appeal and representation: If your claim is denied, a disability lawyer can help you navigate the appeals process and file the necessary paperwork to contest the decision. In an appeal you may also find yourself in court at a hearing before a judge. A lawyer can represent you at the hearing, present evidence, and advocate on your behalf to increase the chances of winning your claim.

  • Getting the maximum benefits: A disability lawyer can help you get the best possible outcome, maximizing your compensation and benefits.

So, Waiting in Wyoming, we hope this helps! We recommend taking the leap. There’s a lot to learn in the complex path to disability, and it’s best to start down that road sooner than later.



PS: If you have more questions, someone on our team can help. Get started with our 2-minute quiz and learn more about your disability case.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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