If you are unable to work due to a medical or mental health condition, then you may be able to receive disability benefits through a federal program offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA offers two types of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs require you to prove that you are unable to work because of a disability for a period of 12 months or longer, or that your condition is expected to be terminal.
Qualifying for SSDI benefits can be challenging, particularly if you do not have a diagnosis listed in the SSA’s “Blue Book.” However, if you are over the age of 50 or 60, it is typically easier to be approved for Social Security disability. That is because you are more likely to have sufficient work credits for SSDI and because the SSA’s rules regarding the type of work that you can perform are more lenient for older people.
At Bross & Frankel, we have experience helping people with all types of disabilities get the benefits that they need. We understand the intricacies of the Social Security disability system, such as the different ways that the SSA evaluates older applicants. If you are considering filing for SSDI and/or SSI, reach out today to schedule a free claim review with a New Jersey disability benefits attorney.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability
Although there are two types of Social Security disability benefits, this post will focus on qualifying for SSDI. This type of disability benefit is available to disabled Americans who have worked for a certain amount of time, and who can no longer work because of a mental health or medical condition. There are no income or asset limits for SSDI.
As an initial matter, you must have earned enough “work credits” to qualify for SSDI. A person earns work credits for working and paying taxes. You can earn up to 4 credits per year. Generally, you need 40 work credits to qualify for SSDI. However, if you are younger, then you may need fewer work credits.
Next, you must meet the SSA’s definition of disability. Broadly, you will be considered disabled if:
- You cannot work or perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of your impairment;
- Your condition prevents you from doing your previous work or from transitioning to other employment; and
- The impairment is expected to either last for one year or to be terminal.
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 stops 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 the SSA doesn’t examine other factors – such as your ability to perform any of their past work or another job. However, if you don’t meet or exceed a Blue Book listing, then you will have to demonstrate your inability to do other work. This can be challenging for many applicants, especially when it comes to showing that they can’t do sedentary work.
If you are older, then it may be easier to qualify for SSDI even if you don’t have a disability that meets the criteria of the Listing of Impairments. For this reason, many people who are closer to retirement age are more likely to be approved for Social Security disability benefits.
Is It Easier to Qualify for Social Security Disability If You’re Over Age 50 or 60?
As a general rule, older people have an easier time getting approved for SSDI benefits. First, people over the age of 50 or 60 tend to have sufficient work credits. This reduces the likelihood of being denied for not working long enough or paying enough into the system.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that some of your work credits have to have been earned recently. If you are over the age of 50, then you will need 40 work credits. At least 20 of those credits must have been earned within the past 10 years.
Second, there are slightly different rules in place for people over the age of 50 or 60 when it comes to SSDI benefits. Essentially, the Social Security Administration understands that it can be more difficult for older Americans to adapt to new types of work. As such, if your condition does not meet or exceed a Blue Book listing, then the rules for the next 2 steps of the evaluation are more relaxed.
While it is often easier to get approved for Social Security disability when you are 50 or older, that doesn’t mean that the SSA will approve all applications from older people. You will still have to prove that you are eligible for benefits, including that you have paid into the system (work credits) and that you are unable to work because of your disability.
Understanding the Rules for Social Security Disability at 50+
There are two ways to qualify for SSDI benefits. First, you may be eligible based on having a condition that meets or exceeds a Blue Book listing. Second, your disability claim may be approved based on a Medical Vocational Allowance.
A Medical Vocational Allowance is essentially steps 4 and 5 of the 5-step sequential evaluation. The SSA will perform an analysis to see if you can perform any of your past work (step 4). They will then look to see if you can perform any other work based on your age, education, past work experience, and your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the work that you can do on a regular and continuing basis with your impairment.
For applicants aged 50 or older, the SSA relies heavily on “grid rules,” which are a series of questions that are used to determine if a person qualifies for SSDI benefits. The grid rules are a series of charts and are used to determine if a person can perform any other work.
To understand the grid rules, it is first important to understand some basic terms related to how SSA defines work, education, and age. For purposes of Social Security Disability:
- A job is similar to your past work if it uses the same types of tools and work processes, and is in the same setting or industry.
- Sedentary work is work that requires lifting no more than 10 pounds at once and no more than 3 hours of walking or standing in an 8-hour workday.
- Light work is a job that involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time, with frequent lifting or carrying of items weighing up to 10 pounds. A job is also considered light if it requires a lot of walking or standing, or if it involves sitting with frequent pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.
- Medium work is work that requires you to stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and to lift or carry 50 lbs occasionally and 25 lbs frequently.
- Unskilled work is work that requires little or no judgment, can be learned in 30 days or less, and is completed with just a few steps.
- Semi-skilled work is work that requires you to have some skills, but no complex work duties.
- Skilled work is work that requires you to use your judgment to determine the best way to complete a project or produce certain material. You may also be required to manage people or to deal with facts, figures, or ideas that are complex.
When it comes to education, a limited education is one that ended between the 7th and 11th grades, with no diploma or G.E.D. The SSA also has categories for high school graduates or more, and illiterate.
People who are 18 to 49 years old are considered younger individuals, while people aged 50 to 54 are deemed to be closely approaching advanced age. Anyone 55 or older is considered by Social Security to be an advanced age. If you are aged 60 or older, you are considered to be closely approaching retirement age. These classifications are important when it comes to the grid rules, as being older, having less education, and having fewer transferable skills makes it more likely that you will be considered disabled.
Broadly, your disability claim for SSDI may be approved if:
- If you are between the ages of 50 and 54, and you are limited to sedentary work and do not have transferable skills that would allow you to transition to a sedentary job.
- If you are aged 55 or older, and your medical impairments limit you to light work or sedentary work, but you do not have skills or recently-completed education that can help you transfer easily into new work.
- If you are aged 55 or older, and your medical impairments limit you to medium-duty work, and you have limited education and no work history or work history of only unskilled work.
- If you are aged 60 to 64, and you are limited to no more than light work and don’t have specific transferable skills to other skilled or semi-skilled light work that is similar to your past jobs.
- If you are aged 60 to 64, and you are cleared for medium-duty work but have limited education and no work history or a history of unskilled work.
As you can see, as you get older, it is often easier to be approved for SSDI benefits. Keep in mind that the SSA will still examine other factors, such as your work history, transferable skills, and education level. However, if you are over the age of 50 – and in particular, if you are 55+ – then you may be able to be approved for SSDI when a younger person with a similar condition and background would not be approved for benefits.
There are no guarantees when it comes to being approved for SSDI. However, the closer that you get to retirement age, the greater the likelihood that you will qualify for SSDI if you can’t work due to a medical or mental health impairment. An experienced New Jersey disability lawyer can help you put together an application for Social Security disability so that you can get the monthly benefits that you need.
How Bross & Frankel Can Help
The rules for people 50 and older are a bit different when it comes to qualifying for Social Security Disability. If you fall into this age range, then you may be more likely to be approved for SSDI than you would have been when you were a few years younger. Our law firm can help you understand these disability rules and will work with you to put together a strong application for disability benefits.
At Bross & Frankel, we are dedicated to helping disability claimants get the benefits that they are entitled to under the law. We will listen to your story, and explain your rights and options for filing a claim. 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.
What If I’m Almost in the Next Age Category When I Apply for Social Security Disability?
It isn’t uncommon for a person to apply for SSDI when they are within a few days or months of reaching the next level in an SSA age category. For example, you might apply when you’re 49, but turning 50 in the next month. In this situation, if your current age results in a denial, then on appeal, an administrative law judge (ALJ) can use the higher age category at their discretion.
Importantly, this only applies to situations where using your current age causes a denial based on the grid rules. If you are approved for SSDI benefits – even on a partial basis – then your current age will be used. An experienced New Jersey disability benefits lawyer can help you understand how your current age will affect the application process.
Does Age Matter for Disability Applications Based on Mental Impairments?
You can qualify for SSDI benefits based on a mental health condition. That being said, it is less likely for age to be a factor in these types of cases. Generally, a mental health impairment case is won based on the severity of your symptoms and how they impact your ability to work.
These cases are often more complicated and require proof of the diagnosis and symptoms through medical records and other documentation. At Bross & Frankel, we have significant experience helping disabled workers get approved for Social Security disability based on all types of conditions – including mental health issues.
If I Meet a Blue Book Listing, Does My Age Matter for SSDI Purposes?
No. The SSA only considers factors such as age, education level, and the type of work that a person can perform if their condition does not meet or exceed a Blue Book listing. In this situation, your application would be approved without considering these other factors (assuming that you have sufficient work credits and otherwise qualify).
Proving that you meet a Blue Book listing isn’t always straightforward. Our legal team can help you develop a record to support your disability claim. Reach out to Bross & Frankel today to schedule a free claim review with a New Jersey disability attorney.