Special Rules for Getting Disability Benefits Over 50

Important: We updated this article in January 2023 to ensure all information below is both accurate and current. The SSA has a standard procedure it uses in order to determine eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. That said, the agency also has special rules for getting disability benefits over 50 that make the process much easier. We’ll explain the claim review and approval process and how the medical-vocational rules change for disability applicants aged 50+ below.

The 5 Steps to Disability Benefit Approval for Most Applicants

According to the SSA, this procedure follows a step-by-step process that encompasses these five important questions:

  1. Are you working? If so, you must make less than $1,470/month in order to qualify for disability benefits.
  2. Is your condition “severe”? Your health problems must be bad enough to stop you from completing work-related activities for your job as required for at least 12 months.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that they consider potentially qualifying disabilities. If your various health issues aren’t listed, that won’t automatically disqualify you, though. The SSA decides if your total health problems and their related conditions/symptoms are “equivalent” to one or more disabilities on their list.
  4. Can you do the work you previously did? Your condition must stop you from working the last job you held before filing your disability claim. If the SSA decides you can still perform your previous job duties, then they usually deny your disability claim.
  5. Can you do any other type of work that pays a similar monthly paycheck? If the SSA decides you can switch to other types of work, then they won’t award you benefits. This is why it’s very important to provide medical evidence showing exactly how your health issues limit your ability to work.

Why Does Age Matter for Getting Disability Benefits Over 50?

When applying for disability benefits, the agency reviews the following:

  • Age: The closer you are to early retirement age, the more likely you are to qualify for disability benefits. In December 2022, 44% of people on disability were 60-66 years old, and 35% were 50-59 years old. Claimants in their 50s got paid $1,340.48 per month; those aged 60+ received $1,617.06, on average.
  • Education: If you have just a high school diploma or didn’t graduate at all, the SSA is far more likely to award you benefits. That’s because people with college degrees or technical or trade school training can change careers or move for work.
  • Past work experience: If you have any job skills the SSA considers “transferable,” then they may decide you can still work. This is regardless of how much pain you’re in or your medical diagnosis.

The good news is, once you’re aged 50+, the SSA uses something called “grid rules” to evaluate disability claims. And the more health issues you have, the more likely you are to qualify for disability benefits.

Success Tips for Getting Disability Benefits Over 50

These tips that may increase your chances for getting disability benefits over 50 the first time you apply:

  1. Make sure you list every health problem you have on your SSD application. Be sure to include all symptoms, medications you currently take, dosages, frequency, and their side effects. Some claimants mistakenly believe listing the “worst” thing on their SSD claim should qualify them for benefits. In reality, 62% of claims approved for SSD benefits in the past decade list 3-5 health problems.
  2. You’re almost 3x more likely to get SSD benefits the first time you apply if an advocate files your claim. If you apply on your own without legal assistance, it can take years of appeals to secure benefits.
  3. Don’t apply for disability while you’re still working. We know you have bills to pay! But to qualify for SSD payments, you must prove you’re unable to work for at least 12 months. Even part-time work tells the SSA that you can still work in some capacity. So, you’re not truly disabled.
  4. Have your doctor complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form showing how your health limits your ability to work. There are separate forms for physical and mental health conditions, but your doctor should know what to do. This form is the #1 reason why the SSA approves or denies most people’s disability claims!
  5. If the SSA already denied you benefits before, wait until you’re 49 or older to apply again. Let’s say you applied at 44 with fibromyalgia, hearing loss and arthritis, but didn’t qualify. You appealed, but didn’t win. The SSA may approve you after 50 even if your age, health and work experience didn’t change. That’s because the special “grid rules” now apply to you, making getting disability benefits over 50 easier!

Still curious about how to qualify for Social Security disability benefits over 50? You may want help from a disability advocate filling out your claim paperwork. A disability advocate or attorney has experience with “special rules” that apply to applicants for disability benefits over 50. Sign up for a free phone call from an experienced Social Security lawyer near you today. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get free claim help and confidential legal advice without leaving your house. Those who qualify for legal assistance through this website typically get at least $12,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.