In deciding whether an applicant meets the qualifications for disability benefits, Social Security Administration will apply a five-step process known as sequential evaluation. The final step in the process considers vocational factors (age, education, and past work experience) along with the claimant's residual functional capacity, to see if the individual can make an adjustment to other work. Where enough vocational factors are favorably present, the medical-vocational guidelines ("grid rules") at Appendix 2 to 20 CFR 404.1569 should warrant disability for individuals who have reached a certain age bracket. Essentially, the rules lean toward a finding of disability for elder claimants with limited education and/or no transferable skills.
A borderline situation may exist where a claimant is within a few days to a few months of attaining a higher age category. For example, a claimant might be deemed an individual of advanced age (age 55-59) at age 54 and 11 months in some circumstances, though the individual has not quite attained 55 years in chronological age. No fixed guidelines as to when a borderline situation exists since such guidelines would reflect a mechanical approach, and the regulations provide for non-mechanical application of age categories (SSR 83-10). The rules addressing borderline age categories and age as a vocational factor are set forth in the Program Operations Manual System DI 25501.410 and DI 25015.005, as well as Hallex II-5-3-2.
Notwithstanding, effective March 26, 2016, Social Security Administration will revise its rules to no longer allow adjudicators to establish the most advantageous onset date, but rather the latest possible onset date that still results in an allowance. The changes to these regulations are expected to codify the practices many adjudicators already employ.