Someone filling out Social Security Disability Claim

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, how long do disability claims take? Generally, it takes from 3 to 5 months to get a decision, but your waiting time depends on how long it takes for Social Security to get important evidence to support your claim.

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for Disability?

If you are disabled and want to apply for disability benefits, you can file a claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA), the government agency that oversees disability claims. However, SSA guidelines for eligibility are strict. The SSA only approves disability payments for people with total disabilities, not for partial or short-term disabilities. In addition, all applicants must meet certain criteria that conform to SSA regulations for both Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Social Security insurance (SSI).

When applying for Social Security benefits, it typically takes 3 to 5 months to receive a decision from the SSA. Once your application is received, it is forwarded to the state agency that conducts disability determinations. In Illinois, all Social Security disability claims are forwarded to the Bureau of Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency in charge of approving or denying disability claims. Although 3 to 5 months is the average time required for a claim decision, how long disability claims take can vary depending on how long it takes for DDS to receive your medical records, work history, and other pertinent evidence based on SSDI and SSI claim requirements needed for review.

  • SSDI claims – SSDI benefits are available to workers and their families when the worker has a work history that lasted long enough to pay Social Security taxes and accumulate a required number of work credits. The amount of monthly benefits is based on the worker’s Social Security earnings record.
  • SSI claims – SSI benefits are available to people with low income and limited resources, rather than work history, paid taxes, and accumulated work credits. Benefits are financed through general tax revenues and can be paid to low-income individuals whether they do or do not have a prior work history.

Factors That Impact How Long Disability Claims Take

Filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits involves a rigid process based on the applicant’s medical condition, work history, and income (for SSI claims). Determining the answer to how long disability claims take depends on a number of factors that impact the timeline. Major factors include medical evidence, work credits, and the state where your claim is being processed.

Medical Evidence

Medical records are a major factor in SSDI approvals. The SSA has strict guidelines on medical conditions that get approved for disability. They require medical evidence from a licensed physician that supports their guidelines. This evidence is carefully reviewed before any determination on a disability claim is made. The SSA requires medical evidence to support the following conditions:

  • Your medical condition meets the SSA’s definition of a disability according to the SSA Blue Book Listings under Part A or Part B
  • Your medical condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death
  • Your medical condition prevents you from working or engaging in any substantial gainful activity (SGA)
  • You can no longer perform your previous job duties
  •  You can no longer perform other job duties or types of work

Work Credits

To qualify for SSDI, you must have been employed in jobs covered by Social Security, paid Social Security taxes on your earnings, and earned a certain number of work credits. Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income, and you can earn up to 4 work credits each year. The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when your disability begins.

Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year your disability begins. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. In 2023, you earn 1 Social Security and Medicare credit for every $1,640 in covered earnings each year. To get 4 credits for the year, your earnings must be at least $6,560.

State Agency

Your state of residence also plays a part in how long do disability claims take, because the state agency handling your claim may be backlogged with Social Security disability cases. In Illinois, the state agency (DDS) handles a large number of SSDI and SSI claims each year, so you may wait much longer than applicants who live in other states where fewer claims are submitted.

Claim Approval or Denial

Unfortunately, more than half of Social Security disability claims are initially denied by the SSA. The reasons for denied claims include lack of necessary medical evidence and medical records, the applicant’s failure to follow a medical treatment plan by his or her doctor, insufficient work history or work credits, and the applicant’s failure to respond to SSA requests for additional information.

If your claim is denied, you can file a request for the following actions: 1-Request for Reconsideration, 2- Request for an Administrative Hearing, or 3- Request for an Appeals Council Review. However, all these actions require written requests and will add more time to your waiting period for disability benefits. If your claim is denied, and you request an appeal process, you should know what to do while waiting for approval.

If your SSDI claim is approved, there is generally a five-month waiting period to receive your disability benefits, so benefits will start on the sixth month after the determined date that your disability began.

What You Can Do to Speed up the Disability Claims Process

All disability claims take time to process due to essential information needed to approve your claim, but you can speed up the process by taking certain actions.

Start the Process Online

When you file a claim for Social Security disability, you can file your claim online, by mail, or in person at a local SSA office in your area. By starting the process online, you can cut your interview time in half. Although you will still need to schedule an appointment with your local SSA office to review your information, you can complete your application for benefits, as well as the disability report online if the following applies: you are 18 years old or older; not currently receiving benefits; have a medical condition that’s expected to last for 1 year or result in death; and have not been denied for disability in the last 60 days.

Check Your Claim Status

After you file your claim, you can check your claim status online through your personal my Social Security account that you set up when filing your claim. You can sign in to your SSA account to see how to check your claim status, where you are in the process, and when a decision is expected.

How Does Social Security Make the Decision?

If you need Social Security disability, it’s important to understand how long disability claims take and how Social Security makes its decision on claim approvals. To optimize your chance of an approved claim, gather essential information before you file your claim. This should include:

  • Personal Information: Your date and place of birth; your Social Security number; your spouse’s age, date of birth, and Social Security number; your children’s names and birthdates (if under 18); and your bank account number and routing number.
  • Medical Records: Medical records that give detailed information about your medical condition/disability; names, addresses, and phone numbers for doctors, clinics, and hospitals; dates of medical treatments or tests; and prescription medications you are taking.
  • Work History: Work information should include the amount of money earned this year and last year; the name and address of employers for this year and last year; beginning and ending dates of any U.S. active military service prior to 1968; and a list of up to 5 jobs you had in the 15 years before you became disabled.
  • Workers’ Compensation Benefits: The SSA will ask about any temporary, permanent, or lump sum payments you received from workers’ compensation; civil service retirement; federal employees’ compensation or retirement; military disability; and state or local government agencies.

To improve your chances for claim approval, make sure you apply for the right disability program, SSDI or SSI, and know the difference in their requirements. Remember that SSDI depends on your work history, paid taxes, and work credits, while SSI depends on low income and limited resources. If your SSDI claim is denied, you may still be able to file for SSI benefits.

To monitor your claim’s progress, make sure you send all required information to SSA and forward any additional information as quickly as possible if they request it. You should also consider working with a Social Security disability lawyer, who can help you with your claim and act as your disability advocate during the claim process.