Should You Apply For Social Security Disability Or Unemployment?

If you've recently lost your job due to an injury or medical condition, you need to find a way to replace that lost income. While trying to get as many benefits as possible might seem like a good idea, you should know that even attempting to apply for Social Security benefits while receiving unemployment will result in a swift denial. You have to make a choice, but how do you know which one is right for you? Understanding the key differences will help you make a decision that will benefit you in the long run.

How do you qualify?

Social security. If you meet the following criteria, you may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD):

  • You are under the age of 65.
  • Your disability is either terminal or is expected to last a year or longer.
  • Your disability is severe enough that you can no longer do the work you did previously.
  • You have earned enough "work credits" from your previous employment (usually 40, 20 of which must have been earned in the last 10 years).

It should be noted that comprehensive medical records and reports will be necessary to determine the severity of your disability.

Unemployment. Rules vary by state, but to qualify for unemployment benefits, you usually must meet the following criteria:

  • You've lost your job due to no fault of your own. This means you did not quit, and you were not fired for gross misconduct.
  • You must have been previously employed for a certain length of time.
  • You must be actively seeking new employment.

If you were fired because of your disability, and you were still able to perform your job duties, you may be able to file a discrimination claim against your employer. This may be done in conjunction with filing for unemployment or SSD. 

How long does it take to get approved?

Social security. If your application is not denied, you're looking at a minimum 5-month waiting period before you even start receiving checks. You do get back-payment if you are approved, however. The good news is that the 5-month wait begins on your EOD. This is the date that you became disabled, not the date of the application.

Unemployment. It can sometimes take several weeks to get approved, depending on the state you live in, and sometimes longer if more information is needed regarding your application. Also, applicants usually don't receive back-pay. 

How long can you receive benefits?

Social security. Your social security benefits will last until one of the following occurs:

  • You turn 65.
  • You return to work.
  • Your disability goes away.
  • You go to jail for 30 days or longer.

If you simply "age out" of SSD, you become eligible to receive Social Security Retirement.

Unemployment. Again, each state will vary, but new laws now guarantee that those who are approved will receive a check for at least 20 weeks. And if you live in a state that has an unusually high unemployment rate, you're eligible for up to 33 weeks of pay (22 states are currently offering this). Once your first tier benefits have been exhausted, you can apply for an extension.

Which one is better for you?

If you know for certain that future employment is highly unlikely due to your condition, and you are in a financial position to wait for your money to arrive, then Social Security Disability is probably the best option.

Now, some claims are denied because the Social Security Administration feels that the applicant is capable of returning to a new line of work that won't be inhibited by their disability. Therefore, if you're unsure about how long your disability will last, or you feel as though you're capable of doing some other type of work, it's best to apply for unemployment and continue looking for a job that suits you. If nothing comes along, you can cancel your unemployment and move forward with applying for SSD. 

Keep in mind that your chances of receiving disability benefits are exponentially higher if you have legal representation, such as The Nelson Law Firm LLC, and your attorney gets a medical statement from your doctor that you are no longer able to work.