How to apply for disability benefits

How to Apply for Disability Benefits: Which Method’s Right for You?

Important: We updated this article with current SSA policy data in May 2022. If you’ve been putting off applying for Social Security disability benefits because you’re concerned the process will be difficult or expensive, we have good news for you — it’s neither. Learn how to apply for disability benefits below in a few different ways, and the great news is they are all free.

Yes, you read that correctly: It is free to apply for Social Security disability benefits, and you have many convenient options for completing the application process.

How to Apply for Disability Benefits: Find the Option That’s Best for You

You can apply for benefits four different ways. Three options mean you’ll apply on your own without any help, and the fourth way includes professional legal assistance:

  1. Online through the SSA’s website
  2. In person at your local SSA office
  3. Over the phone
  4. With professional legal assistance, which costs you nothing up front (but makes you almost 3x more likely to get benefits!)

It’s important to know that claims can take 3-5 months to process, so get started today.

How to Apply for Disability On Your Own: You Have 3 Options

To apply for disability online, over the phone, or in person at an SSA office, plan ahead and assemble the documents you’ll need. You can expect to spend 3-4 hours, average, filling out the claim forms if you bring everything you need the same day. Required documents you’ll need to apply for disability include:

  • Your Social Security number and proof of your age
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that treated you and your visit dates
  • Names and dosages of all medications you you regularly take
  • Medical records from doctors, therapists, hospitals, clinics and caseworkers currently in your possession
  • Laboratory and test results
  • A summary of where you worked and what kind of work you did
  • Your most recent W-2 form or, if self-employed, a copy of your federal tax return

Note: You may also need information about family members. That includes Social Security numbers and proof of age for each relative who may qualify for benefits. You’ll also proof of marriage if your spouse is applying for benefits. You may also need dates of prior marriages, if applicable.

Option #1: Here’s How to Apply for Disability Online

The SSA offers an online disability application you can complete at your convenience. Apply from the comfort of your home or any location whenever you have enough time. To apply online, simply visit and follow the instructions there.

Option #2: Here’s How to Apply for Disability By Phone

Call the Social Security toll-free telephone number 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the SSA at TTY 1-800-325-0778 You should only apply online or over the phone if you already have all your medical records and doctors’ contact info lined up and ready to go. Having all these documents on hand when you’re learning how to apply for disability will help expedite the process.

Option #3: Here’s How to Apply for Disability in Person

You can visit your local Social Security office to ask how apply for disability benefits in person. Most importantly, if you want to apply in person, please call and make an appointment before you visit your local office. To locate the office closest to you, visit the Social Security Office Locator and enter your zip code. You can also call 1-800-772-1213 to receive office location information over the phone.

Success Tips for Those Who Decide to Apply for Disability On Their Own

After you decide how to apply for Social Security disability, here are the things you’ll need to do if you’re filing on your own:

  1. Gather convincing medical evidence needed to support your disability claim. This means paying for copies of your complete medical records from every healthcare provider treating you over the last 2-3 years. The free records, receipts and lab test results you get in the mail aren’t enough to prove your claim.
  2. Fill out every claim form completely and honestly before submitting it to the SSA. Don’t leave anything blank that says it’s required, or the SSA can reject your claim for a “technical error.” Make sure your handwriting is neat and legible, too!
  3. Communicate with the SSA that you’re going to apply for Social Security disability, then follow up regularly to check your claim’s status. SSD claim reviews usually take 3-5 months to complete, on average. It’s important to check your claim’s status often to ensure the SSA has everything they need and no paperwork got lost during the process. If anything is missing in your application, you must provide more documents in a timely manner. Otherwise, you may have to start the application process over again from scratch.
  4. Attend all consultative exams, court hearings and SSA office appointments as requested. The SSA prefers to communicate via U.S. mail, and may schedule doctor’s exams and court hearings months in advance. You must attend all appointments yourself, since you don’t have a legal representative to do it for you. Missing a single appointment may result in your disability claim’s denial.

Finally, you can get free professional legal assistance filing your claim correctly the first time. Why? Well, all disability attorneys work on contingency, and none charge fees until (and unless) you win benefits. Then, they can only charge a one-time fee deducted from your lump-sum back pay. Also, federal law states that attorneys can’t charge you more than $7,200 or 25% of your back-pay amount. Disability applicants that start their claims through typically receive $13,000+ in back pay, on average. In addition, they get SSD benefits in months vs. the 2+ year average wait for those who apply on their own.

So now that you know how to apply for disability, would you like a professional to help you file your claim for free? Luckily, you can have an experienced lawyer help you file an error-free SSD claim free of charge. No matter where you are in the process, a lawyer can get you paid the most benefits you’re owed faster. But if a lawyer doesn’t help you get benefits, you won’t pay a dime in legal fees — ever. Specifically, if a lawyer does help you win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

The lawyers in our network offer free, confidential consultations to anyone with questions about how to apply for disability benefits. Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation now.

Get Your Free Benefits Evaluation

Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and