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When Is the Right Time to File for Social Security Disability?

If you become unable to work because of an injury or condition, you may want to consider filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. You should file for benefits as soon as you become disabled. The process can be lengthy, and you are eligible for benefits the minute that you cannot do a substantial amount of work. In 2020, “substantial” means income of at least $1,260 each month.

If you apply and qualify for SSDI benefits, you will not receive monthly benefit payments until your 6th full month of disability because the program has a waiting period that begins the first month after the date that the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines your disability began.

It generally takes between 3 and 5 months to receive a decision on your disability claim from the SSA. The exact amount of time it will take depends on how long it takes to obtain your medical records or any other evidence they need to make a decision.

Should your initial claim be denied, you may appeal the decision, but that also means that the approval timeline will be extended significantly, by months and sometimes years. There is no reason to wait until your condition worsens to apply for benefits, but if your condition does worsen between when you filed for benefits initially and the time of your disability hearing on appeal, you will be able to submit new evidence about how your condition has deteriorated.

To qualify for SSDI benefits, you must meet Social Security’s definition of disabled and have worked in jobs covered by Social Security. You also need to have accumulated enough work credits; typically, you need 40 work credits, 20 of which must be earned in the last 10 years, ending in the year that you became disabled. There are some exceptions for younger workers who become disabled.

Lastly, there is a limit to how much you can receive in back benefits. Back benefits encompass the period of time between when you filed for benefits and when you were approved for them. The earlier you file, therefore, the greater your chances that you will be able to receive benefits going all the way back to your original filing date.

When you reach full retirement age, your SSDI benefits automatically switch to retirement benefits, but the amount that you receive each month remains the same.