Today, we’re answering a question from reader Tina about qualifying for disability benefits. She says it’s getting and harder and harder to go to work these days, but she has bills to pay. Tina asks: “If I’m applying for disability, do I have to quit my job?” Keep reading to learn the answer.
“Should I Quit My Job if I’m Applying for Disability?”
We’ll walk you through the qualifying steps the government uses to determine your eligibility for benefits below. Whether or not your health problems are bad enough to call you disabled is pretty far down their list!
Step 1: Do You Have Sufficient, Recent Work History and Social Security Work Credits?
The fact that you’re working now (even though it’s increasingly difficult) makes you more likely to qualify for SSDI benefits. SSDI is Social Security Disability Insurance, and your FICA taxes from every paycheck cover your premiums each month. When applying for SSDI, the government checks your claim’s eligibility requirements in a certain order. The first thing the Social Security Administration looks at for SSDI applications is, do you have an active policy? In other words, did you work full-time for 5 out of the last 10 years in jobs that withheld FICA (or Social Security) taxes from every paycheck? You’ll probably say “yes,” which puts you one step closer to getting benefits.
Next question: Do you have enough Social Security work credits to qualify? Generally, you need to earn 40 work credits before you’re eligible (20 within the last 10 years). However, that can vary depending on your age and income history. (Learn more about this topic in the SSA’s Social Security work credits brochure here.)
Step 2: Are You Still Engaging In “Substantial Gainful Activity” When You Apply?
Once you’ve passed the first two eligibility requirements, we get to number three: Can you still work? The SSA says: “If you are working in 2020 and your earnings average more than $1,260 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled.” That $1,260/month is what the SSA calls “substantial gainful activity” (i.e., the work wage amount you earn). Maybe you only work part-time, or earn less than that now. But if you’re working when you apply, the SSA may decide you’re not disabled. Or you should be able to get another job with your current health problems that pays similar wages.
So, to answer your question: “Do I need to quit my job before applying for disability?” In our opinion, yes, you need to quit your job first. If you’re not working, they’ll schedule a DDS medical exam. That exam determines whether your health problems specifically forced you to stop working. If their doctor says “yes,” you meet the SSA’s medical disability requirements.
“I’m Scared to Quit My Job – I Have Bills To Pay!”
Just so you know, many people are in the same situation you are right now. They want to quit working, but have no way to pay their bills. To qualify for SSDI, you must prove your health problems force you to stop working for at least 12 months. If you’re able to work part-time or light duty shifts, that can kill your claim’s approval chances. We say this because it says directly on the SSA’s website. “If you are not working, we will send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office that will make the decision about your medical condition.” In other words, if you’re still working, why should they move onto the medical screening portion of your claim review? People who aren’t working will skip ahead of you in line, and that line is very, very long right now.
Some people wait up to two years for the SSA to finish reviewing their claims. It sounds like you can’t go very long with no income, but quitting your job is key for faster approval.
“How Long Does Approval Take After I Quit My Job?”
Frankly, there are three things you can do right now that greatly improve your approval chances:
- Consult with an experienced local disability advocate for free before you apply. We can match you with someone today for a free, no-obligation consultation based on your ZIP code. This person can review your info and answer all your claim questions before you file. You’ll get guidance that matters to your specific case, like how long people in your area typically wait for approval.
- After speaking with an advocate, quit your job as soon as you can reasonably do so. You may wish to delay this step until you can put aside some extra money to live on. You’ll need to go about five months without any income before the SSA can pay you any SSDI benefits. (This mandatory five-month waiting period is required under current federal law, unfortunately.)
- Lastly, gather enough convincing medical evidence to support your claim and submit it. Unless you have a terminal illness the SSA’s doctor can independently confirm, your claim review takes 3-5 months, on average. If the SSA pulls your medical records after receiving your claim, expect to wait a year (or longer).
Filing your application with correct, complete info and convincing medical evidence is key to speeding up your claim review and approval.
Double Your Chances for Disability Approval On Your First Try
People don’t like hearing this, but the disability application process is confusing and difficult. Government forms are hard to understand and fill out for a reason. Anything they can do to discourage people from applying lets them keep more taxpayer money. Having a lawyer file your disability application makes you 2x more likely to qualify on your first try.
In recent years, about 1 in 5 first-time applicants won benefits. You might think you don’t need a lawyer if your doctor says you’re disabled. However, lawyers understand the process well. They know the government rejects some people’s claims for bad handwriting. Or simply because they stapled the pages together! A lawyer can copy documents, check your claim status and communicate with the SSA on your behalf.
Denied the first time? An attorney can file your appeal and correct any application errors. You won’t have to appear or testify in court because your attorney does that for you. Think you can’t afford it? All disability attorneys work on contingency. That means you pay nothing for legal assistance until after your case wins. If you don’t get paid, then neither does your lawyer. And if you win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee under federal law.