As we covered in last week’s column, if you have met the age and duration of work criteria as they relate to your participation in the Social Security program, and if your disability will prevent you from working for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income benefits. Bear in mind that the greater the length of time that you made contributions to Social Security, the greater will be your disability benefit, if you qualify.


A person may file a disability claim either online at www.socialsecurity.gov, or by calling 1-800-772-1213 and making an appointment to file your claim in the Aiken Social Security office.


Before you begin the claim process, you should check out www.socialsecurity.gov/disability to print out a copy of a Disability Starter Kit. Personally, I favor the in-person approach if you are physically able to do, since if your disability is evident, it may facilitate your application.


The information that you should submit as part of your claim includes your Social Security number, a copy of your birth certificate and listing of all of the medical professionals and institutions that have cared for you, along with the dates of your visits.


It will help your case if you can obtain a copy of your medical records, along with any copies of lab or test results. Also include all of the medications that you take along with their dosages.


You will need to provide a summary of where you last were employed and the type of work that you performed there. You will also need a copy of your most recent W-2 form (if you were self-employed, a copy of your latest income tax return).


Once you file your claim, you will have to be patient, since the determination of whether or not you qualify can take as long as 6 months. Since there is a five-month waiting period for benefit commencement beginning after the date that you became disabled, the good news is that if you do qualify for benefits, they may start right away.


The second step in the process, after it has been determined that you have submitted all of the requisite information, is a review of your claim at the State level by the office of Disability Determination Services. You will be required to undergo a consultative examination if your qualification for benefit payments cannot be determined based solely on the documents and information you have provided.


The office of Disability Determination Services is most concerned about how your condition affects your daily routine and the activities you regularly perform at your job, along with your ability to perform any work-related activities.


Since 60 percent of all initial disability claims are denied, you should be prepared for that likelihood. Should you decide to appeal that decision, it will make sense to hire an attorney, since the appeals process can be complicated.


If you choose to hire an experienced disability attorney to file your initial claim for benefits, you will have the advantage of having a seasoned professional work with you on a contingency basis and continue to represent you during the appeal process. You pay only if you “win.”


Assuming you do qualify for Social Security Disability Income benefits, if you receive workers’ compensation payments, or disability benefits based on work that was not covered by Social Security, your Social Security Disability Income benefit may be reduced. Any benefits you receive from private disability policies do not reduce your Social Security Disability Income payments.


If you return to work, you may work for up to nine months at any compensation level, without affecting your Social Security Disability Income benefits. For the next 36 months, your Social Security Disability Income benefits are not reduced if you earn no more than $1,070 per month (2014). This amount can be higher if you incur work-related expenses due to your condition.


If you do go back to work and are still receiving Social Security Disability Income benefits, you must report that fact to the Social Security administration. After the 36-month period has expired, your Social Security Disability Income benefits will be reduced if you continue to work.


Greg Roberts is a certified financial planner with 35 years of financial and estate planning experience. Got a financial planning question for Greg? You may email him at greg@lifesolutionsonline.net.