Most Americans are familiar with the Social Security Administration (SSA) – perhaps because of the taxes that we all pay, or because they or a loved one rely on Social Security retirement benefits. But Social Security also provides benefits to people with disabilities. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two programs that pay monthly benefits to people who cannot work due to a medical or mental impairment.
When it comes to SSDI, your age may be a factor when it comes to your eligibility for benefits. The SSA has special rules for older disabled workers that can make it easier to qualify, along with your education level, work history, and transferable skills. In some situations, your age may be a key factor in getting approved for disability benefits.
Based in Cherry Hill, Bross & Frankel represents injured workers throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We are fierce advocates for disability claimants, working hard to get them the benefits that they need. Reach out to our law offices today to schedule a free claim review with a member of our legal team.
The Social Security Disability Determination Process
To qualify for SSDI, you must first have paid into the system by working and earning credits. You can earn up to 4 credits per year for working, and will usually need 40 credits to be eligible for SSDI. If you are younger, then you will generally need fewer work credits.
Next, the SSA will look to see if a person is considered disabled per their definition of disability. To determine if someone is disabled, the SSA uses a five-step sequential process:
To determine if a person qualifies as disabled, the SSA uses a 5 step sequential evaluation.
- A person cannot earn more than $1,470 (in 2023) a month from working (gainful employment) when claiming disability;
- A person must have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits their ability to perform basic work. This impairment must be expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death (note: you can apply for disability benefits before you have been disabled for 12 months, as long as your condition is expected to last a year or longer);
- Social Security will review whether a person’s condition meets all of the requirements for a condition on SSA’s Listing of Impairments (also known as the “Blue Book”) or has other factors that equal a condition on that list. If so, then the person is considered disabled and the evaluation ends here.
- If not, then the medical or mental health condition must prevent them from performing any of their past work; and
- They must not be able to do any other type of work, considering their impairment, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills (this last step requires Social Security to identify other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy).
If you meet or exceed a Blue Book listing, then your age won’t be a factor in deciding if you qualify for Social Security disability benefits. However, if you don’t meet or exceed a listing, then the SSA will move on to steps 4 and 5. The closer you are to retirement age, the more that your age will matter when it comes to eligibility for SSDI.
How Is the Disability Determination Process Different After 50?
Social Security’s rules for determining eligibility for disability benefits are slightly different for older people. However, these special rules are only applicable to disability claimants who do not meet or exceed a Blue Book listing. In other words, the different rules for Social Security disability only apply if the SSA needs to move on to questions 4 and 5 of the evaluation process.
In the fourth step, the SSA will look at your residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine whether you can perform your past relevant work. RFC is an evaluation that analyzes what work you can do regularly and consistently with your disability. If you can’t engage in past relevant work, then the SSA will move on to the final step: whether you can perform any other work in the national economy.
The SSA makes this evaluation based on a few key factors: your medical condition, age, work history, and educational level. Because age is a consideration, if your application reaches this stage of the process, your chances of getting approved for benefits will likely rise if you are age 50 or older.
The reason for these different rules is simple: the Social Security Administration recognizes that most people are unlikely to be able to adapt to or perform new work when they are older or closer to retirement age. Older people are also less likely to go back for additional education to pick up the skills necessary for different work. At the same time, the SSA recognizes that many employers will be reluctant to hire and train older workers who don’t have experience in a particular job or industry.
The SSA will consider your age category as part of this process. If you are under age 50, then you are considered a younger individual, and the SSA is unlikely to find that your age affects your ability to find new work. If you are aged 50 to 54, you are considered to be closely approaching advanced age. If you are 55 or older, you are considered to be of an advanced age. At 60 or older, you are closely approaching retirement age.
When the SSA analyzes your application to decide if you can perform any other work, it will look at a chart that is commonly referred to as the grid rules. Basically, the grid rules look at an applicant’s age, education level, and previous work experience to decide if a person is disabled or not according to Social Security’s definition.
For example, if you are of “advanced age” (55+), have limited education, and have unskilled or no prior job experience, then you will be considered disabled. However, if you have the same education and job experience, but are a “younger individual” between the ages of 45 and 49, then you won’t be considered disabled.
In this way, older disabled workers have a slight advantage over younger people when it comes to Social Security disability benefits. While being older does not guarantee that you will receive Social Security Disability Insurance, it will be an important factor if the SSA has to determine whether you can perform any other type of work.
These rules also impact whether a person who is close to retirement age should apply for disability or retirement benefits. For example, if you are 62, you could apply for early retirement. However, doing so will result in reduced monthly benefits. If you are disabled, then it may be a better choice to apply for SSDI instead. An experienced New Jersey disability benefits attorney can help you make a decision about the best choice given your unique situation.
Considering Applying for SSDI? Give Our Law Firm a Call.
Social Security disability benefits exist to provide a financial safety net for people who are unable to work because of a mental health or medical condition. However, the process of applying for benefits can be challenging. While being over 50 can be advantageous in the disability determination process, it isn’t a guarantee that you will be approved for benefits.
The disability benefits lawyers of Bross & Frankel can help you put together a strong application with benefits, supported by objective evidence like medical records. We will work collaboratively with you and your doctors to get the documentation necessary to achieve a favorable outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a New Jersey disability attorney, give us a call at 856-795-8880 or fill out our online contact form.