Why Was Your Social Security Disability Claim Denied?

Disability Benefits

Important: We updated this article in June 2022 with the most recent available SSA policy data and application outcome statistics. Whether you have one or several mental and/or physical conditions, you might consider applying for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. This is especially true if you are now unable to work full-time. However, getting approved for monthly SSD benefits can be challenging. From 2010 to 2019, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied 69% of disability claims filed, on average. What’s more, there are are several reasons why your claim might be denied that have nothing to do with your health. Your medical issue is only one factor in the claim review process, so let’s take a closer look.

Main Reasons Why 7 In Every 10 SSD Applicants Get Denied

The 2020 Annual Statistical Report shows that the SSA denied benefits to 37% of applicants without reviewing their medical condition. (This percentage represents 771,168 people out of more than two million new disability applications.) If you’re denied for a non-medical reason, this is called a “technical denial.” That means the SSA never reviewed your claim because you’re not technically eligible for benefits. We’ll start by listing the top technical denial reasons first, then move onto medical reasons why people get denied disability benefits.

1. Because You Don’t Have Enough Social Security Work Credits

The #1 reason for a technical denial is “insufficient number of recent work credits.” You need 40 work credits to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. You also can’t earn more than four work credits in any calendar year, and some jobs don’t help you earn these credits. When the SSA says your work credits aren’t “recent enough,” that’s a slightly different problem. In that case, it means you haven’t worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 5 out of the last 10 years. If you stop working for 60 months or longer, then you Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) coverage automatically lapses. Learn more about how to earn Social Security work credits here.

2. Because You Earn Too Much Money

Social Security disability benefits are for people who cannot work at least 12 months due to health problems. If you earn over $1,350/month and apply while you’re still working, your disability claim automatically gets denied. But what if you work just a few hours or part-time and earn less than that each month? The SSA may also factor in any other income sources, such as child support and alimony payments. This is another common technical denial reason that has nothing to do with your medical condition.

3. Because You’re Able to Do Other Types of Work

This medical reason is why 42% of SSD claims got denied in 2019 (that’s 213,167 people). If you can’t work full time in the job you held last, will anyone else hire you? The SSA looks at your work experience and educational background to see what other jobs you can do. If you can find another job that pays similar wages, then you’ll likely get denied disability benefits.

4. Because Your Condition’s Not Severe Enough to Qualify

This reason covers nearly 1 in 4 medical denials (24.8%) that year (that’s 126,472 SSD claimants). The SSA’s doctors review your medical records and may schedule a medical exam to independently confirm your condition(s). Your doctor saying you’re disabled isn’t enough for you to qualify. Instead, your condition must meet the SSA’s own definition of a “disability.” The best way to avoid being denied benefits for this reason? List every health issue you have on your application, along with your medications and all their side effects. You need to prove you cannot work for at least one year due to health problems. Expecting just one impairment to make you eligible for SSD is usually a mistake.

5. Because You’re Able to Do Past Work As Usual

Nearly 1 in 10 disability claims are medically denied benefits for this reason (8.6%). If you can still work at your last full-time job, then that’s enough to get your claim denied. It doesn’t matter if you’re in pain all day, or need unpaid time off for doctor’s visits. Your physical ability to show up and complete your work tasks is all that matters.

6. Because Your Condition Won’t Stop You From Working 12 Months or Longer

About 21,928 SSD claims got denied because the the condition wasn’t expected to last at least one year (4.3%). Some people wrongly think that they can get Social Security disability for short-term impairments. Things like pregnancy, knee or hip joint replacement surgery and recovering from a car accident typically don’t qualify for SSD benefits. If your condition doesn’t force you to completely stop working a year or longer, you will get denied SSD benefits.

Other Common Reasons Why SSD Claims Get Denied

Lastly, there’s an “other” category that covers less-common reasons why disability claims get denied every year. In 2019, 20.5% of claims got denied for other reasons, including:

  • Insufficient medical evidence to prove your case
  • Your condition resulted from drug or alcohol addiction
  • You changed your phone number or moved without letting the SSA know, so they couldn’t finish your claim review
  • Refusal to cooperate with the SSA (i.e., didn’t show up for a required medical exam or give permission to transfer your medical records, etc.)
  • Not seeing a doctor recently or getting regular treatments for your condition

Remember: The burden’s on you to prove you’re unable to work for health reasons. If you don’t provide convincing or thorough evidence to support your case, then you won’t qualify for disability.

Having a lawyer file your disability application triples your chances for approval on your first try. You can talk to a Social Security attorney near you today for free about your case. Already denied the first time and need help filing your appeal? These lawyers work on contingency, so you’ll pay nothing for legal assistance now. In fact, you’ll owe $0 in legal fees unless your lawyer helps you win a cash settlement. And if you do win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee under federal law.

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.