You've waited many months or years for the news that your claim for Social Security disability has been approved, and you're understandably eager to begin receiving your monthly disability income. Once you're approved for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will send you an award notice by mail. The award letter will tell you:
This article looks at what happens after you're approved for disability benefits, including when you can expect to get your first benefit check.
Social Security makes payments "in arrears," which means that when you receive a check, it's for the previous month. The only time this will probably have an impact on you is when you're waiting for your first check.
Although your payment dates will be the same each month, when that date is each month depends on whether you receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.
Your SSDI payments will be issued on a Wednesday, and your payment date is based on your birthday. The day of the month you were born determines whether your check will arrive on the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of the month.
Keep in mind that for SSDI, there's a mandatory five-month waiting period from the date that Social Security says your disability began (your onset date) to when your monthly payments can start. And Social Security doesn't start counting until the first full month after your onset date.
For example, let's say you were disabled in an accident on May 1. In that case, your five-month waiting period would be June, July, August, September, and October. So, the soonest you'd be eligible to receive a monthly disability check would be in November. Of course, it usually takes so long for a disability application to be approved that the waiting period is usually over by the time you're approved for benefits.
Unlike SSDI, SSI disability benefits are paid on the first day of the month. If the first falls on a weekend or holiday, SSI checks are paid on the last banking day before the first of the month. For instance, January 1, 2023, is both a Sunday and a legal holiday, so SSI payments for that January will be issued on Friday, December 30, 2022—the last banking day before the first of the month.
SSDI. If you're approved for SSDI, the amount of your disability check will be based on the amount of income you earned before you became disabled and how much you worked in recent years. (Here's more about how much SSDI disability pays).
SSI. If you're approved for SSI, the amount you receive depends on several factors, including:
If you're single and living alone, the maximum SSI benefit amount is $914 per month. It's $1,371 for married couples. If you have any income other than SSI, Social Security will subtract some of that income from your disability check. And if you live in a state that adds a state-funded supplemental payment, you could get an additional $10 to $400 per month. Get more information on how Social Security determines how much SSI disability you'll get.
Social Security will ask you to sign up to have your monthly benefit checks directly deposited into your bank account, unless you applied for Social Security disability benefits before May 1, 2011. Social Security says this is the safest and quickest way you can receive your monthly disability payment.
If you don't have a bank account (and don't want to open one), Social Security can send your monthly disability payments to a direct express debit card. Each month, Social Security will add the amount of your benefit to the debit card. You can then use the card to make purchases and pay bills. Learn more about using debit cards and direct deposit to get disability payments.
Every year you'll receive a statement from Social Security that shows the amount of benefit you were paid during the previous year. Hang onto that statement, as you might need that information when you file your taxes.
Because it takes so long to get Social Security disability benefits approved, most new beneficiaries are eligible to receive "back payments" when disability benefit payments begin. If you're owed back pay, Social Security will send you lump-sum payments—but how much they'll be and when you'll get them depends on the kind of disability benefits you're receiving.
If you've been approved for SSDI benefits, you could receive back payments covering up to 12 months before your application date. But that's only if your disability onset date was 17 months before your application date (because of Social Security's five-month waiting period). Social Security pays SSDI back pay in one lump sum usually around the time your monthly SSDI benefits begin.
If you're approved for SSI disability benefits, you can't receive benefits going back before your application date. Instead, Social Security will owe you benefits starting the month after the date of your application. Social Security also pays SSI back payments in lump sums. But larger amounts are generally divided into three payments issued six months apart.
If you're awarded SSDI, you might have eligible dependents who can receive benefits as well. Benefits are usually available to certain dependent family members of SSDI recipients and could include your:
If you're getting SSDI benefits, Social Security will pay as much as 150% of your SSDI benefit amount to your family (100% to you plus 50% to the rest of the eligible family members in your household). There's no waiting period for SSDI dependent benefits, and Social Security will pay your dependents any back pay they're due.
Learn more about how SSDI dependent benefits work.
In addition to getting monthly cash payments and a lump sum of back payments, you will also start to get health care benefits—eventually.
If you're approved for SSDI, you'll be enrolled in Medicare two years after you become eligible for Social Security disability payments. But this doesn't always mean Medicare becomes available two years after you're approved for SSDI or two years after your payments have started.
Instead, you'll receive Medicare benefits two years after your eligibility for benefits has been established (in other words, two years after your "date of entitlement"). Your date of entitlement is your disability onset date plus five months, on account of the SSDI waiting period. This means that you won't receive Medicare coverage until 29 months after Social Security says you became disabled.
But in many cases, since the SSA takes so long to decide cases, you'll gain access to Medicare at about the same time you're approved for SSDI benefits. In other words, you may have "served" the required two-year wait for Medicare benefits by the time you receive your first Social Security disability check. (See our article on Medicare and the Medicare waiting period for SSDI for more information.)
If you're approved for SSI, you are usually entitled to Medicaid benefits. You don't have to apply separately for Medicaid in most states; your Medicaid benefits will start soon after you are approved.
If Social Security determines that there's been an error and your disability benefits have been overpaid, you‘re required to repay the overpayment, in most cases. Social Security will send you a notice of overpayment that explains your repayment options.
If you're getting SSDI benefits, Social Security will withhold your monthly benefit check until the overpayment is paid off, starting 30 days after you receive the overpayment notice. You can contact Social Security and ask that less be withheld, but you'll need the agency to agree.
With SSI disability benefits, Social Security will wait at least 60 days after you receive the overpayment notice to begin withholding some of your benefits. And the agency generally holds back only 10% of the maximum monthly SSI benefit amount—which is $914 in 2023. So no matter how much your monthly SSI check is, Social Security will usually withhold about $90 each month until the overpayment is repaid.
As with other decisions made by Social Security, you have the right to appeal an overpayment notice. Learn more about disability overpayments.
If you've just begun receiving Social Security disability, or you soon will, you might have questions about whether or not your disability income can be taxed. While most people don't have to pay taxes on disability income, you could be taxed on up to 85% of your Social Security disability benefit. But you'll generally owe taxes only if you have another source of substantial income (like your spouse's income). The more you make, the larger the portion of your disability benefit that's subject to tax.
For instance, if you and your spouse have a combined income of more than $44,000 per year and you file a joint tax return (called "married filing jointly"), you'll likely pay taxes on 85% of your disability benefits. But if you and your spouse have a combined income between $32,000 and $44,000 per year, you'll pay taxes on only 50% of your disability benefits.
That means that no matter your income or tax filing status, at least 15-50% of your SSDI disability check isn't taxed. Note that SSI disability benefits aren't subject to taxes.
Learn more about when Social Security disability benefits are taxable.
Your disability benefits might not last forever unless you're permanently disabled and your medical condition never improves. If your condition improves and you're able to return to work, your benefits will end.
Social Security periodically re-evaluates your medical condition during continuing disability reviews (CDRs). Your initial award notice will tell you when you can expect your first CDR.
Just how often Social Security will reevaluate your eligibility for benefits depends on factors like:
Most SSDI recipients can expect Social Security to conduct a CDR every three years. But Social Security can review your case more often if your impairment is expected to improve sooner. (Conditions that require intensive treatment for a year or more, like organ transplants, fall into this category).
What if you have a disability that's considered permanent or not expected to improve (like a loss of intellectual ability)? In that case, you'll likely face a CDR only every seven years or even less often.
SSI recipients also face periodic reviews. And since SSI is based on financial need, if you're receiving SSI benefits, Social Security will occasionally check to see whether you're income and asset levels have changed. These SSI "redeterminations" are in addition to (but separate from) CDRs. Learn more about when and why your disability benefits could end.
Updated September 25, 2023