If you have enough work credits to qualify for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a step-by-step process involving five questions. They are:

1. Are you working?

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If you are working in 2021 and your earnings average more than $1,310 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. If you are not working, SSA will send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office that will make the decision about whether you can work on a sustained basis based on your medical condition(s).

2. Is your condition "severe"?

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Your condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering – for at least 12 months. If it does not, SSA will find that you are not disabled.  If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, SSA moves on to Step 3.

3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?

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For each of the major body systems, SSA maintains a list of medical conditions that we consider so severe that it prevents a person from completing the substantial gainful activity. If your condition(s) is not on the list, SSA has to decide if it is as severe as a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, SSA will find that you are disabled. If it is not, SSA then moves to Step 4.

4. Can you do the work you did previously?

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At this step, SSA decides if your medical condition(s) prevent you from performing any of your past work. If it doesn’t, SSA will conclude you don’t have a qualifying disability. If it does, SSA proceeds to Step 5.

5. Can you do any other type of work?

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If you can’t do the work you did in the past, SSA looks to see if there is other work you could do despite your condition(s). SSA considers your medical condition(s) and your age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have. If you can’t do other work, SSA will decide you are disabled. If you can do other work, SSA will decide that you don’t have a qualifying disability and your claim will be denied.

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