Elimination Period for Social Security Disability Benefits

In this article...
  • Social Security disability benefits are paid after a five-month wait. Learn how the elimination period works and when to expect your first disability paycheck.

Understanding the Elimination Period for Social Security Disability Benefits

If you have a disability, you may be eligible to receive financial support through Social Security. Once an application for disability benefits is approved, payments begin after a window of time known as the elimination period.

The elimination period applies only to the Social Security Disability Insurance program. There's no qualifying period if you only apply to the Supplemental Security Income program for those with little or no income.

What Is the Elimination Period for Social Security Disability Benefits?

An elimination period is common among insurance plans and refers to the time between the onset of your disability and the start of your benefits. The elimination period for the Social Security Disability Insurance Program is five full, consecutive calendar months. During this time, you aren't eligible for any benefits from the program.

The elimination period begins the first full month after the date that you:

  • Became disabled, as determined by Social Security based on your application and medical records, and
  • Met the requirements to be insured by Social Security based on your earnings

Benefits begin in the sixth full month of your disability. Here's an example of how the elimination period works, using May 15 as the date that Social Security determines a disability begins.

  • Disability onset date: May 15
  • Elimination period begins: June (the first full month of the disability)
  • Elimination period is: June, July, August, September, October (five full, consecutive months)
  • Benefits begin: November (the sixth full month of the disability)

You can expect a disability check the month after the benefit is due. In the example above, if the first month you're eligible to receive benefits is November, you're issued a disability check in December.

How Social Security Defines Disability

Even if a doctor deems you to be disabled, the final determination as to your eligibility and the date of your disability is made by a state agency. The agency reviews your medical and employment records. They may also speak with your health care and treatment providers, and ask you to have a physical exam. 

For the purposes of Social Security benefits, you're considered to have a disability if you have a medical condition that:

  • Prevents you from working, and
  • Lasts, or is expected to last, at least 12 months, or cause your death

Calculating Your Disability Benefits

The amount of benefits you receive is based on your average earnings during your life up until your disability. The benefit may be reduced if you receive other disability income; for example, through Workers’ Compensation. There are also benefit limits per family.

Social Security has an online calculator that you can use to help estimate your disability benefits. 

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

It may take Social Security several months to process your application, so you should apply early. The time it takes to review your application may be considered part of your waiting period.

There are several ways to apply:

  • Submit an online application
  • Call 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply by telephone or in-person at a Social Security office