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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments begin after you serve a five-month waiting period, which generally starts with the date you became disabled. Your first benefit payment will be for the sixth full month after that date.
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For example, if Social Security decides that your disability began Jan. 15, your initial payment will be for July and you'll get it in August, as Social Security pays benefits in the month after the month for which they're due.
The important thing to remember is that the date your disability began, what Social Security calls the onset date, is not the same as the date your claim for SSDI was approved, or when you applied. Your onset date — essentially, the day you became unable to work due to your medical condition — could be days, weeks or even months before you filed for benefits.
In practice, this means that if your application is approved, you might not have to wait that long after that for your benefits. In November 2022, Social Security's average processing time for an SSDI application was 204 days, or nearly seven months. Even if you filed your claim on the day you became disabled, the waiting period could be over by the time the claim is approved.
Let's say you applied for SSDI in August 2022 due to chronic, worsening back pain. In January 2023, Social Security grants your claim, determining from its review of medical and other evidence that July 15 is when your condition became severe enough to stop you from working. Your first payment would be for January, and you'd get it in February.
What if Social Security concludes that you became disabled even earlier — say, in April 2022? You would have theoretically been entitled to benefits in October 2022, but you could not have gotten them because your application wasn't approved yet. In this case, Social Security can pay retroactive benefits for the three months between the end of your waiting period and when it approved your claim.