Disability applicants who've been approved to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits (also known as SSDI, SSD, and Title II disability benefits) are subject to a five-month waiting period before they're entitled to receive disability benefits. This means that once your disability application is approved, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will withhold five months of your benefits before your monthly payments start.
In reality, because getting a disability approval takes so long, the SSA will end up keeping five months of your back payments during the waiting period. You'll receive your first disability payment (or back payment) in the sixth full month after the date your disability began. We'll explain this in more detail below.
There are some circumstances when the five-month waiting period doesn't apply. In these cases, you can get disability benefits as soon as your claim is approved, and you won't lose any of your back pay. Here are the exceptions:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. If you've been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), you don't have to wait five months to begin receiving SSDI benefits.
SSI. If you've been approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, you won't be subject to the five-month waiting period like SSDI applicants are. Instead, you'll be eligible for your first SSI payment in the month after you apply for disability. But you'll likely receive the first few months' payments in back payments since Social Security takes at least a few months to grant disability benefits.
Reinstatement of benefits. If you stopped receiving SSDI benefits because you went back to work, and then you become disabled again, you won't have to wait five months to receive benefits the second time around. There's no waiting period as long as no more than five years have passed between your first onset date of disability and your second. This is called expedited reinstatement.
Dependent benefits. If you're applying for benefits as the child of a disabled worker, your application isn't subject to any waiting period. For more information, see our section on SSDI dependent benefits.
The five-month waiting period starts on your established onset date (EOD) of disability. (Your EOD is the date that Social Security says you became disabled.) Thus your date of entitlement to Social Security benefits—the date when you're first owed a monthly payment—doesn't start until five months after your EOD. If you recover or go back to work during this five-month period, the SSA won't have to start your benefits or pay you back pay.
When is the date of entitlement (the day you're first entitled to collect benefits) in relation to your application date? This is where it gets tricky. Your date of entitlement can be up to 12 months before your application date, but no more than 12 months. And adding on the five months of the SSDI waiting period, your established onset date (EOD) can be 17 months before your application date. Of course, the EOD is only set that far back when Social Security believes you've been disabled for at least 17 months before you applied for disability.
Or, Social Security might set your EOD after your application date if the agency doesn't believe you became unable to work until sometime after you applied. For those applicants, the five-month waiting period would start after the application date.
The five-month SSDI waiting period means that Social Security won't pay you any disability benefits for the first five months that you're eligible for benefits. For most SSDI applicants, the elimination period won't affect when you first start getting disability payments—because it generally takes the SSA more than five months to approve a disability application—but the waiting period will affect how much back pay you receive.
Learn more about how the SSDI waiting period affects your benefits and back pay.
If you have a protective filing date (the date you advised Social Security you'd be applying for disability benefits), it takes the place of your application date for the purposes of the 17-month time limit discussed above. You can be entitled to benefits for up to 12 months before your protective filing date, if your disability onset date is 17 months before the protective filing date.
In other words, if Social Security finds that you were disabled at least five months before your protective filing date, you can be paid disability benefits for 12 months before the protective date. Get details on when and how you need to contact Social Security to establish a protective filing date for SSDI.
As you can see, most of the time, you don't actually have to wait five months after a decision is made to get benefits since the five-month waiting period is used up while waiting for a disability decision.
Updated April 14, 2023