How Long Does It Take to Get SSDI?

Quick Answer

Someone approved for SSDI benefits normally faces a five-month waiting period before receiving their first check. Payments begin in the sixth full month after approval of an SSDI application. Benefits can be paid retroactively for up to 12 months if SSA finds you had a disability during that time and meet all SSDI requirements.

Mature man with broken leg in plaster cast on sofa checking the status of his SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits help millions of disabled Americans keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

Unfortunately, SSDI payments don't magically show up in your bank account. SSDI recipients generally must wait five months to get their first SSDI payment, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Payments begin in the sixth full month after SSA approval of a SSDI benefit request.

What Are SSDI Benefits?

The federally funded SSDI program, administered by SSA, pays benefits to you (or certain relatives) if you've racked up enough time in the workforce and you've got a medical condition that keeps you from working for 12 months or more or that'll cause your death.

Relatives who might qualify for your SSDI benefits include a surviving spouse or the disabled child of a deceased, disabled or retired worker.

In order to receive SSDI benefits, you must:

  • Meet SSA's definition of a disability. SSA defines disability as the "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity" due to a "medically determinable" physical or mental impairment. Among the numerous disabilities that fall under this definition are arthritis, cancer, autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy and depression.
  • Be under the full retirement age. Depending on when you were born, the full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67 years old.
  • Not be coping with a partial or short-term disability. Your disability must make you completely unable to work for at least 12 months, or your disability is likely to lead to your death.

Monthly SSDI payments are based on lifetime average earnings that are covered by Social Security.

Overview of the SSDI Program in 2021
Number of benefit recipients More than 9.2 million
Average monthly payment $1,358.30
Total dollar amount of payments Over $11.9 billion in December 2021 alone
Average age of benefit recipient 55
Share of disabled workers among benefit recipients 85%
Most common diagnosis among benefit recipients Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue (34%), including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

How Many Months Does It Take to Get SSDI?

Generally, someone whose SSDI application has been approved must wait five months to receive their first SSDI payment. This means you'd get your first SSDI benefit in the sixth full month after the date SSA determines that your disability began.

Here's an example of the SSDI waiting period:

Your disability began July 15 and you applied August 1. In this case, your first benefit would be paid for the month of January, the sixth full month of disability.

SSA does not impose a waiting period if your disability arose from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's Disease), a progressive neurological disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord controlling muscle movement, and you were approved for SSDI benefits on or after July 23, 2020.

The Social Security agency also does not impose a waiting period for someone who received SSDI benefits in the five years before their current disability.

SSA says it pays SSDI benefits in the month after they're due. For example, a December 2023 benefit would be paid in January 2024.

Why Is There a Five-Month Waiting Period?

Congress established a five-month SSDI waiting period to allow enough time for a short-term injury or illness to be resolved and also to discourage people who are able to work from seeking SSDI benefits, according to the Congressional Research Service. Benefits can be paid retroactively for up to 12 months if SSA finds you had a disability during that time and meet all SSDI requirements.

The first month counted in the waiting period cannot be more than 17 months before the month of your SSDI application being submitted.

What Can You Do to Make Ends Meet While You Wait for SSDI?

It can be tough to wait half a year for SSDI benefits to start hitting your bank account. So, what can you do to get by financially when you're waiting for SSDI benefits to kick in? Here are 10 suggestions.

  1. Look into unemployment benefits.
  2. Check into workers' compensation benefits (if your disability arose from a workplace-related illness or injury).
  3. See whether you're covered by disability insurance from your employer.
  4. Find out whether you qualify for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps eligible people keep food on the table, or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which helps low-income families with children.
  5. Seek help from your family and friends.
  6. Set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise emergency funds.
  7. Pull money from your savings account.
  8. Tap into your retirement funds. This may include taking out a loan from your employer-sponsored 401(k).
  9. Consider taking advantage of your home equity with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

How to Manage Your Finances While out of Work Due to Disability

Aside from applying for SSDI benefits when you're out of work due to disability, what else can you do to stay afloat financially? Here are four tips.

1. Review Your Income

It's hard to know where you're going financially if you don't know where you stand. So, it's wise to take a deep dive into your income. What sources of income have you been depending on? How much income are you getting each month? How much income might you lose due to your disability?

2. Take a Look at Your Expenses

While you're reviewing your income, also take a look at your expenses. How much are you paying for your mortgage or rent each month? What are your monthly expenses for utilities, groceries and other basic needs? How much debt, such as credit credit debt, are you carrying?

As you're exploring expenses, consider ways you can cut costs. For instance, do you really need subscriptions to six streaming services? Is there a way to trim your debt without causing much financial pain? Discovering places to reduce expenses can put more money in your bank account.

3. Go Over Your Assets

In addition to reviewing your income and expenses, it's time to scrutinize your assets. How much equity do you have in your home? How much money is in your retirement accounts? How much of a cash cushion do you have in your bank accounts? What other assets do you own that are potential sources of income?

4. Create a Budget

Armed with information about your income, expenses and assets, your next step should be to create a budget if you don't already have one. A spending plan can help you conserve precious cash. And, if you're really in dire financial straits, consider setting up a bare-bones budget that leaves little room for fluff.

You can set up a budget in a spreadsheet, via an app or with good old pencil and paper. Budget methods you might consider include:

  • 50/30/20 budget: Under this method, you put 50% of your net income toward your needs, 30% toward your wants and 20% toward savings.
  • Zero-based budget: This budget allocates every dollar to a certain expense so that your income and your expenses (including savings) equal your monthly income.
  • Envelope budget: Using this method, you stuff cash into different paper envelopes each month for different expense categories.

The Bottom Line

For millions of people with disabilities, SSDI benefits provide a financial lifeline. However, an SSDI applicant usually faces a five-month waiting period for their first SSDI benefits to arrive. In some cases, this wait might force you to make some hard choices about savings and spending—choices that may be made easier by putting in place a well-crafted financial plan.