Even if your disability is so severe that you’re immediately approved for Social Security Disability benefits, you may not have any immediate relief. That’s because Social Security imposes a five-month waiting period on cash benefits to beneficiaries entitled through its disability program.
The waiting period for benefits begins the first full month of eligibility based on your “allowed onset date,” which is the date that controls how far back Social Security can take your claim. In other words, imagine that you were in a disabling accident in the first week of January during the year you file for benefits. Your waiting period would begin that February. Even if you were approved for benefits immediately, your check wouldn’t start until July when your waiting period is over.
There’s an additional catch. Even in July, you still wouldn’t receive a check because Social Security Disability benefits are paid the month following the month they are actually due. So, your July check wouldn’t come until sometime in August.
If it takes a while for your claim to be approved — which it often does — you may not really notice the waiting period. You may be due a small amount of past-due benefits and, when those are paid, not realize that the money for the waiting period is withheld. However, if you’re approved quickly, the waiting period can be frustrating and hard to understand.
What can you do about the wait? First, try to establish the earliest onset date for your disability as possible. Social Security will look back up to a year when determining your date of onset, so use the date you last worked full time — even if you don’t file for benefits for several more months.
Second, ask about Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. SSI provides a small payment for people who are disabled and without much else in the way of income or resources. Your eligibility will have to be determined by a claims representative after a careful review of your family’s finances — but it’s a good possibility that they will provide a check during that five-month waiting period if you have no other income.
There are a lot of complex issues involved when filing for Social Security Disability. Don’t be afraid to look for some assistance if you need it.