Understanding the Social Security Grid Rules by Age

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    Understanding the Social Security Grid Rules by Age

    For people applying for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, it can be difficult to know whether your specific condition is enough to qualify you for benefits. Thankfully, the SSA has laid out very specific criteria that are used to help determine eligibility. But what happens when you are disabled or injured, but don’t suffer from one of the conditions spelled out in the Blue Book or elsewhere? In that case, the SSA uses a complex series of tables (called “Grids”) to help decide whether you still qualify for benefits. These grids help a disability determiner decide if you are disabled based on a number of factors, including age, your education level, your RFC level, and your work history. To use the Social Security grid rules, a determiner must first be able to evaluate an applicant based on the several factors.


    The age of the applicant is probably the most important factor that is considered. This is because the older an applicant is, the more difficult the SSA assumes it will be for the applicant to adjust to the demands of a new job. Therefore, applicants are divided into several age classes, ranging from younger individuals (18-44) all the way to advanced age (over the age of 55). Those of advanced age are more likely to be determined as disabled.

    RFC levels

    RFC, or Residual Functioning Capacity, is a measure of how much work you are able to perform based on your mental or physical capacity as determined by medical professionals. Typically, applicants are grouped into one of several categories here — sedentary work, light work, medium work, heavy work, or very heavy. If someone can perform heavy or very heavy work, the chances of them being found disabled are pretty small, so the SSA has not even created grids for those people. The other three classes are more likely to be disabled, with those who are able to only perform sedentary work being the most likely.

    Educational level

    The SSA believes that those who are more educated are more easily able to find new work and adjust accordingly. Therefore, the higher your education level, the less chance you have of being declared eligible for disability benefits.

    Work History

    The final factor that goes into the Social Security Grid rules is your work history. The more you have worked, and the more skills you have learned throughout your work history, the easier it is for you to work and adjust to a new job. Therefore, the less likely you will be found disabled.

    Using the Social Security Grid Rules by Age

    To put this information together, the disability determined looks at all available information and reviews your medical records. Each RFC level has its own grid. These grids can be found looked at here. Based on these, the first thing the determiner will do is put you in a category based on your RFC level. Remember, this is basically a measure of how much and what type of work you can handle based on your medical condition. Those who are labeled as “sedentary,” for example, are only able to work in situations where they do not have to stand up or exert themselves much. “Light” work, on the other hand, would imply that the person is able to stand and walk, but in a limited capacity for a limited amount of time. It would also imply that the individual probably can’t lift anything over a couple of pounds. Once the RFC level is determined, the grid is laid out by age, with the “Advanced Age” category on top. For each age group, the options for educational level and work history are laid out in rows. Based on the age group, the educational level, and the individual’s work history, the row also gives a recommendation for whether or not that person should be found to be disabled or not. So, for example, the first line of the Grid for a “sedentary” RFC looks like this:

    RuleAgeEducationPrevious work experienceDecision
    201.01Advanced ageLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled

    By looking at the correct age category — in this case, advanced — the determiner can see how the applicant falls into the other categories and then use the grid to make a determination. For this applicant, the grid recommends a ruling of “disabled.” Of course, the disability determiner has the final word on the decision, so even though the grid recommends one finding, the determiner might, with the help of all available evidence, rule in a different way. Sometimes, specific instances can’t be easily placed on a grid such as this. This is why it’s so important to send in completed medical records and documentation. If you would like to know more about the Social Security grid rules by age, or how it could make an impact on your specific situation, then please don’t hesitate to contact us today. We look forward to serving you and helping you get the benefits you need.