If you are disabled and cannot work, you may be eligible to receive social security disability insurance (SSDI). The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees various financial assistance programs for individuals who cannot work because they experience a disabling condition.  These benefits can assist with monthly living expenses, including rent, utilities, meals, and doctor visits.

The SSA utilizes a five-step evaluation process to determine if an applicant is disabled and entitled to benefits:

  • Step 1: Is the individual working? The SSA considers whether an individual is engaging in substantially gainful activity (“SGA”).
  • Step 2: Is the condition severe? An individual’s condition must prevent him from engaging in basic-work related activities.
  • Step 3: Does the individual have an impairment that meets or equals one of the impairments found in SSA’s Listing of Impairments
  • Step 4: Can the individual do the work he or she previously did?
  • Step 5: Can the individual do any other type of work?

What is the process for applying for SSDI benefits after age 50?

If you are 50 years of age or older, the process for applying for SSDI benefits is the same as any other candidate. However, the one difference is that the consideration of whether you can do other work under Step 5 (discussed above) is going to be guided by a separate set of guidelines, the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. These are more commonly referred to as the grid rules.

Understanding the Grid Rules

The grid rules consider four different factors: Residual Function Capacity, Education, Previous Work Experience, and Transferability of Skills.

  • Residual Function Capacity: This factor looks at how much, if any, strength-related work an individual is capable of doing. Strength-related work includes, but is not limited to, walking, standing, and lifting, pushing, and carrying weighted objects. The less strength related work you can do, the greater your chance of qualifying for SSDI benefits.
  • Education: An applicant’s level of education is characterized based on the following categories: (a) illiterate or cannot communicate in English; (b) have a limited education (11th grade or less); (c) high school graduate or more; or (d) recent education that trained you for a skilled job. Another consideration is how long it has been since the individual received this level of education.
  • Previous Work Experience: An applicant is ranked as unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled depending on the requirements from their last job.
  • Transferability of Skills: Based on an applicant’s prior employment, the SSA will evaluate how easily the applicant’s skills and experiences can be transferred to a new, similar position.


The SSA considers all of the grid factors when conducting its evaluation under Step 5. These guidelines are advantageous to older applicants because an applicant’s age is reflected in all of the grid factors. For example, applicants under 50 are typically not awarded disability benefits if they can perform sedentary work. According to the SSA, sedentary work includes jobs that are mostly sitting, but require some standing and walking throughout the day (approximately 2 hours). However, an applicant 50 years of age or older may still be deemed disabled even if they can perform sedentary work.

How likely is it that my application will be accepted?

The amount of SSDI benefits awarded has varied over time. Between 2009-2018, an average of 32% of applicants who applied for SSDI insurance received benefits. Over the same period, the percentage of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level (i.e., when an application is first filed) averaged 21%. The percentage of applicants awarded benefits during the subsequent appeals process averaged between 2-8%. Denied disability claims averaged 66% during this period.

The older you are, the more likely it is that the SSA will approve your application for benefits. In 2019, 478,409 disabled workers between the ages of 50 and full retirement age (65+) received SSDI benefits.

How much SSDI benefits will I receive if my application is accepted?

If the SSA accepts your application, you will begin to receive your monthly benefits shortly thereafter. The chart below outlines the average monthly benefits for disabled workers ages 50-65 in 2019.

Average Monthly Benefit (USD), December 2019

  • 50-54: $1,207.48
  • 55-59: $1,283.40
  • 60-64: $1,378.19
  • 65-Full Retirement Age: $1,419.80

Age affects the chances of successfully applying for social security disability benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that individuals are two times more likely to collect SSDI at the age of 50 than at the age of 40 and are two times more likely to collect SSDI at the age of 60 than at the age of 50. Below is a chart that describes the disability insurance recipients as a percentage of the insured workers as of June 2019, based on age:

Percentage of Disability Insurance Recipients of Insured Workers, June 2019

  • 40-44: 3.2%
  • 45-49: 4.6%
  • 50-54: 7.2%
  • 55-59: 11.7%
  • 60-66 17.3%

How often does the SSA review disability cases?

If you are awarded SSDI benefits, you will continue to receive benefits as long as you continue to remain disabled. The SSA will periodically conduct a continuing disability review (CDR) to determine if you still have a disabling condition. By law, the SSA is required to conduct a CDR at least once every three years, unless it determines that you have a medical condition that will improve in a shorter amount of time. In these cases, the SSA may conduct a CDR sooner than three years. If your medical impairment is not expected to improve, the SSA will still conduct a CDR, but every five to seven years.

The SSA will notify you when it conducts a CDR and will ask you to complete either an SSA-454 (Continuing Disability Form) or an SSA-455 (Disability Update Report), which can now be completed online. As part of the CDR, the SSA will also review your income, resources, and living arrangements to ensure that you continue to meet the SSA’s requirements for disability benefits. After the CDR, if the SSA determines that you are no longer disabled, your financial benefits will stop.

Contacting an Attorney

The process for applying for social security disability benefits can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if you are over the age of 50. If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused, a social security disability attorney or representative can help. These experienced professionals can review your SSA application materials, help to navigate through the application process, and most importantly, increase the likelihood of receiving a favorable outcome and getting the financial help you need.

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