SSD Application Timeline: What to Expect

How long, exactly, does it take from the moment you apply to getting your first SSD payment once you’re approved? See every step in the application process and claim review timeline below.

Step 1: When to Apply for Social Security Disability

If you’re still working when you apply for Social Security disability, the SSA will automatically reject your claim. Don’t apply for SSD benefits until five months after your disability forces you to stop working, according to SSA guidelines.

Step 2: Your Claim Goes to Disability Determination Services for Review

Most SSD applicants wait 3-5 months before hearing a decision on their claim. If you have a terminal illness or condition on the Compassionate Allowances List (CAL), your review time is much faster. In 2016, the SSA reviewed CAL list and Quick Disability Determination (QDD) claims in 18.5 days, on average. If the examiner can’t make a decision with available medical records, you must undergo a consultative exam (CE) instead. If this happens, it can add 1-2 months to your SSD claim’s review time.

Step 3: First Payment Arrives After Your SSD Claim’s Approved

Most people ask, “How soon can I get my first payment after my SSD claim’s approved?” SSA guidelines say the soonest you’ll get your first payment is six full months after the date you became disabled. If your doctor diagnoses pancreatic cancer on May 1, your earliest SSD payment arrives on December 1.

Step 4: If Your Claim’s Denied, You Have 60 Days to Appeal

You must appeal within 60 days after your denial letter arrives in the mail. Otherwise, you’ll have to start the whole SSD application process over from scratch. In most states, your first appeal is called “reconsideration” and it takes 77 days, on average, to process. But if you live in a state shown below, you’ll skip directly to an ALJ hearing instead:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • California (Los Angeles area only)
  • Colorado
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New York (Brooklyn and Albany areas only)
  • Pennsylvania

Step 5: Scheduling an ALJ Hearing in Court

    If the SSA denies your first appeal, you have another 60 days to dispute that decision. However, an ALJ hearing can take 6-12 months to schedule before a judge. The soonest most SSD claimants can plead their case at an ALJ hearing is two years after they first applied.