Important: We updated this article in January 2023 to make sure all information below is correct and current. It might be surprising to find out that the process of applying and getting approved for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits can be long and challenging. First, you must convince the Social Security Administration (SSA) you fit their definition of disability. This means you cannot work at least one year or have a disability expected to result in your death. If your condition isn’t listed in the SSA Blue Book, you must make a strong enough argument that your disability or symptoms match the criteria for other approved conditions. The other issue is meeting the non-medical requirements for Social Security disability. If you cannot meet these, you’ll receive something called a Social Security disability technical denial.
We’ll explain what that means and how to get help with your appeal below.
The SSA Denies Most Initial Claims; In Many Cases, It’s A Technical Denial (Non-Medical Reason)
It’s important to understand that only a small percentage of SSDI applicants win benefits the first time. In fact, many people must go through the appeals process to win Social Security disability benefits.
There are a variety of reasons why the SSA might deny your claim. In some cases, it’s for medical reasons. In other words, the SSA doesn’t find your medical condition severe enough to prevent you from working more than 12 months. But in others, failing to meet non-medical requirements may result in a technical denial. Claimants who apply for Social Security disability and receive a technical denial letter in the mail should pay attention to the commonly reported reasons below.
What’s A Social Security Disability Technical Denial?
A non-medical denial (i.e., technical denial) occurs when you don’t meet the base requirements for Social Security disability. If you cannot meet the non-medical requirements, then the SSA doesn’t look at your health problems.
Below are three reasons you might receive a technical denial on your disability claim:
Reason #1: You Earn Too Much Money
You can still work while applying for disability, but we don’t recommend it. Regardless, if your monthly income’s more than the SSA allows, it will result in a technical/non-medical denial. That’s because you’re earning too much money to qualify for disability assistance, according to SSA guidelines. The maximum amount each month is $1,470 for non-blind and $2,460 for blind applicants.
However, the SSA does not count your household income towards that limit… only your individual, personal monthly income. In other words, the SSA will not ask to review your spouse, roommate or live-in partner’s monthly income amount when you apply for SSD benefits.
Reason #2: You Haven’t Earned 40 Work Credits Yet
In order to get SSD benefits, you must have worked long enough to earn the required Social Security work credits. A person in their early 30s needs at least 20 work credits to qualify for SSDI. Claimants in their 60s, however, needs at least 40 work credits. Another way to look at it: If you’re 50 years old, you need to have worked at a job for seven years that paid into Social Security to qualify for SSDI. No matter your age, if you worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time while paying Social Security payroll taxes, that’s enough.
Reason #3: You Haven’t Worked Enough Within The Last 10 Years
Another reason for a technical denial is because you haven’t worked recently enough to qualify. Alternatively, it’s possible your health problems started after you stopped paying Social Security payroll taxes. Generally speaking, you must have work at least five out of the last 10 years to qualify for SSDI. Part-time employees, seasonal workers, stay-at-home parents and those who do not pay Social Security payroll taxes may receive a non-medical claim denial. The SSA reviews your non-medical requirements first, always. If you can’t pass those, then the agency never looks at your health issues. If you stopped working more than 5 years ago, then it’s impossible to qualify for SSDI.
Reason #4: You Already Draw Some Social Security Benefits Each Month
This one’s very frustrating for people who chose to apply for early retirement anytime between ages 62 and 65. Once you start drawing regular Social Security benefits, then you cannot qualify for SSDI. Worse, the SSA will reduce your benefits each month for the rest of your life.
Think of SSDI as an “early withdrawal” program for regular Social Security payments. If your health forces you to stop working for a year (or close to it), always apply for Social Security disability instead of early retirement. Why? Once approved, your SSDI payments will equal the maximum amount you’re entitled to from Social Security at full retirement age. And when you do reach your FRA, your SSDI payments automatically convert into regular Social Security benefits paid at the same rate. You won’t have to file any additional paperwork to make the swap between these payments happen. The SSA handles all that for you. However, your Social Security payments may direct-deposit on a different day of the month than your SSD benefits did.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance Appealing Your SSDI Technical Denial
Receiving a Social Security disability technical denial doesn’t signal the end of your options. You can go through the appeals process to try and reverse the SSA’s decision. If you do opt to file an appeal, consider speaking with a Social Security advocate or attorney if you haven’t done so already. He or she will have the expertise and background knowledge necessary to improve your chances of winning benefits, or can help you begin the SSI disability claims process if you have insufficient work credits to qualify for SSDI. In fact, you’re almost 3x more likely to get benefits if a lawyer files your paperwork.
Talking to someone who handles cases just like yours is the best way to avoid a technical denial. If you received one already, an experienced attorney can find your mistakes and help you file your appeal. Best of all, you pay $0 for legal assistance if the SSA doesn’t award you cash payments. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
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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.