The Social Security Administration’s Sequential Evaluation Process for Disability Benefits

When applying for Social Security Disability most individuals do not know or realize what steps the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) takes when evaluating claims. Below is information that may help you to better understand SSA’s process in evaluating claims.

Step One: Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

One of the first items the Social Security Administration will take into consideration is whether you are working. If you are working, SSA will determine whether your work amounts to “substantial gainful activity.” First, SSA determines whether the work being done is “gainful.” Meaning this work generates more than a set amount of income on a monthly basis. SSA states to qualify for disability benefits an individual cannot make more than SGA. In 2023, the SGA amount is $2460 for blind individuals and $1470 for non-blind individuals. Secondarily, SSA determines whether your work is “substantial.” When evaluating whether your work is substantial, SSA determines if your job is a job with little or no accommodations made for individuals with disabilities.

You can proceed to step two if you are not working and/or if your work is not SGA.

Step Two: Severity of Impairment

In step two SSA will evaluate whether your physical or mental conditions are severe. To qualify as a severe impairment, this means that your medical conditions must interfere with your ability to do basic work activities. It is important to know that the medical condition that you have which is keeping you from working must last or be expected to last at least 12 months or end in death. It is also important to note that if Social Security finds that your medical condition is severe, it does not mean that they have found you disabled. This just means that your claim will proceed to the next step.

Step Three: Meeting or Equaling a Listing

During step three, SSA will evaluate whether your condition equals or meets a listing. These listing are descriptions of medical problems and the impairments that they cause. You can view SSA’s listing by visiting their website at If SSA finds that your condition meets or equals a listing, they will then stop the evaluation process and find that you are disabled and entitled to benefits. Most people that qualify for disability benefits, do not do so by meeting or equaling a listing. This is because they may have a health condition that is not one that is specifically listed, or their documentation may not satisfy all of the criteria that is associated with a particular listing.

Once Social Security determines that your condition does not meet or equal a listing, it then proceeds to step four.

Step Four: Past Relevant Work

In this step, the Social Security Administration will determine whether you can perform any of the work you have done on a full-time basis within the past 15 years. If SSA agrees that you are unable to perform any work you have performed in the past, your claim then moves to step 5.

Step Five: Other Types of Work

In this step, the Social Security Administration will determine whether or not you can do any other type of job in the national economy despite your limitations. If SSA, ultimately concludes that you are unable to perform any other job in the national economy in addition to the jobs that you have done in the past, SSA will find that you are disabled and entitled to benefits.

Please keep in mind that the above information regarding the 5-step Sequential Evaluation Process only covers the basics. There are many other rules and regulations when the Social Security Administration is evaluating your claim. If you are thinking about applying for benefits or if you have already applied for benefits, please contact our office to see how we can help you move through the disability process as efficiently and quickly as possible.