Filing a Disability Application With Social Security (SSDI)

You have several options for applying for Social Security disability. Find out how to fill out the application and whether it makes sense to apply by phone, in person, or online.

By , Attorney UC Law San Francisco
Updated 6/03/2024

If you can't work because of a physical or mental impairment, you might qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), including:

You can file for Social Security disability benefits in person or by phone. You can also apply for SSDI online, but SSI disability is different. You can start an SSI application online, but you'll need to speak with a Social Security representative to complete the process.

This article will discuss your options for filing an application for SSDI benefits, the essential application forms for SSDI, and where you can get help applying for disability benefits.

How to File for Social Security Disability in Person

If you aren't comfortable applying for benefits online, or you'd like help completing your application for SSDI, you can apply for disability benefits at your local Social Security office. You don't need an appointment to speak with a representative, but having one will generally reduce your waiting time and ensure you get the help you need.

At your local Social Security office, the field representative will provide the following SSDI paper application forms and lead you through them:

  • Form SSA-16-BK, Application for Disability Insurance Benefits
  • Form SSA-3368-BK, Adult Disability Report,
  • Form SSA-3369-BK, Work History Report, and
  • Form SSA-827-BK, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration.

You can find printable versions of the Social Security disability app form SSA-16 and the other necessary forms at

Completing an Application for SSDI by Phone

You can apply for SSDI (or SSI disability) by phone by calling Social Security's national office at 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778). Representatives are available Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. (local time). On-hold times are usually shorter during mornings, later in the week, and later in the month.

When you call, tell the Social Security representative you want to apply for disability benefits. The representative will take some basic information and then schedule an appointment for an agent to call you back to complete your application for SSDI by phone.

Applying for SSDI Benefits Online

If you decide to apply for SSDI online, you'll need to fill out the same basic forms using Social Security's online disability application. Applying for SSDI benefits online has some advantages, such as the following:

  • You don't need an appointment, and there's no waiting line.
  • You can file your claim from anywhere (including outside the United States).
  • The online portal is available 24 hours a day—including weekends and holidays.

Social Security generally takes six to eight months to make an initial decision on disability claims, but it can take much longer if you need to appeal. Because you can apply for SSDI online at any time and without an appointment, you can potentially cut days or weeks off the time it takes to get an initial decision.

One of the other advantages to applying for SSDI online is that starting your online SSDI application establishes an early filing date. Social Security counts the date you begin your online application as your application date—not the date you complete it—which can increase the amount of disability backpay you'll receive.

And you don't need to delay filing online because you haven't gathered all your information. You can start now and save your application in progress, then go back to it as many times as needed. (Write down your assigned application number. You'll need it to get back into your SSDI application, and also to track your disability claim status.)

Get more tips in our article on applying for Social Security disability online.

Information Needed to File an Application for SSDI

The information Social Security asks you to provide will be the same whether you're applying for SSDI benefits online, by phone, or in person. Social Security will want some basic information such as:

  • your name, Social Security number (SSN), address and contact information,
  • your employment history for the last five years, including dates of employment and employers' names and addresses
  • information about your marriage, including your spouse's name, birthdate, and SSN (if you have it), and
  • contact information for all the doctors and hospitals you've visited.

You'll also need to provide your banking information (account and routing numbers) so Social Security can issue your disability payments by direct deposit. If you don't have a bank account, you can sign up for a DirectExpress debit card.

Completing the Adult Disability Report for SSDI

If you file an SSDI claim online, you'll find that the Adult Disability Report and the Work History Report are part of the main application. The disability report portion of the online application, like the paper disability report form, asks for details about your medical condition(s). Along with information about your limitations, you'll need to include:

  • the types of medical treatment you've received, and
  • the names of the doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers you've seen.

Make sure you enter all physical and mental conditions that you suffer from. Even if you think one of your medical conditions isn't severe, the combination of your conditions can add up to an inability to work. And Social Security is required to consider the combined effect of all your impairments.

Choose Your Disability Onset Date

Pay careful attention to the date you enter for the "date you became unable to work." Social Security calls this your "disability onset date," and it has some important implications.

The farther back your onset date is, the more back pay you stand to receive from Social Security. But make sure your medical records contain evidence of your disability going back to the onset date you claim, because Social Security won't pay benefits without it.

And even if you've had a disability for a long time, there's no benefit to choosing a disability onset date that's more than 17 months before your application date. Social Security won't pay retroactive benefits going back more than 17 months. (Learn what you can do if Social Security disputes your disability onset date.)

Explain How Your Disability Prevents You From Working

In the section that asks how your condition keeps you from working, include detailed information on how your impairment limits your work activities. Here are some examples of how you can relate your limitations to your medical condition.

  • My herniated disc keeps me from being able to sit for more than one hour at a time without taking walking breaks.
  • My doctor has restricted me from lifting more than 20 pounds because of the avascular necrosis in both of my hips.
  • I can't stand and walk more than four hours per day because of exhaustion caused by my chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the "Remarks" section at the end, you can add information on how your medical condition affects your activities of daily living.

Authorization to Disclose Medical Information

At the end of the application for SSDI benefits, you'll be asked whether you consent to have your medical records disclosed to Social Security. If you complete an SSDI paper application, you'll answer this question on the Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (Form SSA-827-BK).

You must select "yes" to allow Social Security to collect records on your behalf. This authorization gives the SSA access to all your past medical records and any records generated for 12 months after you give consent.

Contacting an Attorney Before Applying for SSDI Benefits

The application process can be lengthy and confusing. If you have questions about any stage of the process, you might want to contact a disability attorney. An experienced attorney understands Social Security's rules and knows what it takes to get a disability claim approved.

Many larger disability practices have in-house staff who can help you fill out the application for SSDI and all the necessary forms. Having legal representation from the beginning ensures the documents Social Security requires are accurate, complete, and submitted on time.

Social Security disability applicants who work with attorneys are more likely to win than those who go it alone. And you generally only pay a disability lawyer if you're awarded benefits.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you