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9 Reasons Social Security Denies Disability Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 10, 2024  ·  3 min read
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Applying for Social Security disability benefits is a challenging process, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies applications for most claims. About 70% of disability applicants receive denials for medical reasons, and the other 30% because they do not meet the technical requirements. 

Learn about the most common reasons the SSA denies applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and what to do if you receive a denial letter. 

9 Common reasons the SSA denies disability claims

There are several reasons why the Social Security Administration might reject your application for disability benefits. Here are some of the most common:

1. You do not have enough medical evidence.

You might receive a medical denial if you lack medical records like doctor’s notes to prove your disability is severe enough to keep you from working. If this is the case, you’ll need to request medical records or receive additional medical care ahead of filing for an appeal.

2. You earn too much money.

The Social Security Administration considers income limits when determining eligibility for disability benefits. This limit is known as Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is any activity you do for significant monetary gain. In 2024, the SGA limit is $1,550 per month. If you make more than this, the SSA will likely deny your application.

3. You are under the age of 50.

Applicants under 50 must prove their medical condition prevents them from being able to do any kind of work. People over the age of 50 must prove they can no longer work their previous job. The SSA is generally more favorable to applicants over 50 since this age group is less trainable and more susceptible to injury and illness.

4. You do not follow the correct steps in the appeal process.

If the SSA denies your initial application, it’s important to follow the correct next steps. If you submit a new application, the SSA will likely immediately deny it. Instead, you should appeal the denial of your application.

5. You miss a consultative exam or do not follow a prescribed treatment plan.

The SSA might schedule a consultative examination— a medical exam with one of their doctors — to learn more about your medical condition. Not showing up could be grounds for a denial. The SSA may also deny your application if you are not following the doctor’s orders of a prescribed medical treatment plan. The SSA needs to see that you’re actively doing everything you can to improve your disability.

6. You do not have enough work credits.

If you’ve worked a job and paid taxes, you’ve paid into work credits for SSDI. You need a certain amount of work credits — typically 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years — to qualify for SSDI. If you’ve never worked or have a limited work history, SSI is the correct program for you.

7. Your disability will not last for longer than 12 months.

To be eligible for SSDI or SSI, your disability must be expected to last for longer than a year or expected to result in death. Your condition also must cause severe limitations in your daily life. The SSA will deny your claim if you have a short-term disability expected to improve in less than a year.

8. You do not respond promptly.

During the disability application process, it’s your responsibility to stay on top of any communication from the SSA. If they reach out to ask a question, answer as soon as possible. Freely give the SSA any medical records they need and comply with every step in the process. A disability attorney can help you stay proactive about strict deadlines and even communicate with the SSA on your behalf.

9. Your application forms are incomplete.

Finally, the SSA could reject your disability application if you did not fill out the application correctly. This is another area where a good disability lawyer can be a major help. They’ll tell you which forms you need to fill out and how to do so correctly. 

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What to do if your disability claim is denied

If you receive an SSA denial notice, you have the right to appeal this decision. Follow these steps to appeal the SSA’s decision:

  • File an appeal. You must request a reconsideration within 60 days of the SSA’s decision. To appeal the denial, you’ll file Form SSA-561, Form SSA-3441, and Form SSA-827 on the SSA’s website.

  • Understand your denial reason. Knowing which type of denial you receive — medical or nonmedical — makes it easier to provide supporting medical and technical evidence for your appeal.

  • Write a disability appeal letter. In addition to submitting medical records and disability reports, you can write a disability appeal letter to present your case as part of the appeal process.

  • Keep applying. There’s no limit to how many times you can apply for disability benefits

Get help applying for disability benefits

Receiving an SSA denial notice does not mean all hope is lost. It is an expected part of the process, and you should appeal the decision.

Having a good disability attorney on your side increases your chances of winning benefits by three times. A lawyer can help you gather evidence and navigate the appeal process. If needed, they’ll also represent you at a disability hearing.

Take our two-minute disability quiz and someone from our team will reach out to offer advice. Atticus can also connect you with a highly qualified lawyer to help you appeal a disability denial.

Frequently asked questions about disability appeals

Can you appeal if your SSI or SSDI claim is denied?

Yes, you can appeal if your disability benefits claim is denied. There are two types of denials: technical and medical. Technical denials are harder to appeal than medical denials, but both kinds of denials can be appealed. Learn more about denial letters.

What’s the deadline to file a disability appeal?

You have 60 days to file an appeal, starting from the day you receive your denial letter. The SSA assumes that you will receive your denial letter five days after it was mailed. You may be able to request longer to appeal, but it’s uncommon. If you miss this window, you’ll have to start your application all over again — so make sure you submit your appeal for reconsideration on time.

How long does a disability appeal take?

Based on SSA data, a disability appeal takes an average of 22 months. That’s just under two years from the time you appeal an initial denial until you get a final decision. Getting an initial SSDI or SSI decision takes about six months, on average.

How long does a disability appeal take with a lawyer?

Your disability appeal likely won’t take much or any longer with a lawyer. If you signed with your lawyer right before your hearing, they may request a delay so they have time to go over your case and prepare for your hearing. Otherwise, having a disability lawyer won’t make your case take longer.

How long does an SSDI reconsideration appeal take?

As of early 2024, the most recent data from the SSA shows that it takes an average of about six months to get a decision on a reconsideration. For more help, we’ve covered some tips for winning at reconsideration.

How long does it take to get a disability hearing?

As of early 2024, the average wait time for a disability hearing is 9.6 months, though the average wait at your local SSA hearing office could range from eight months to three years.

What’s the wait time for a disability hearing decision?

After your disability hearing, you should expect to wait an additional 1-3 months to get the judge’s decision. Though you could get a decision sooner. In some cases, you could even get a decision right after your hearing.

Related resources:

Can a Lawyer Help My Social Security Disability Appeal?

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By Jackie Jakab

How to Write a Disability Appeal Letter: 8 Tips and Sample Letter

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By Jackie Jakab

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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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