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The Social Security disability five-year rule allows people to skip a required waiting period for receiving disability benefits if they had previously received disability benefits, stopped collecting those benefits and then became unable to work again within five years.
The Social Security disability five-year rule makes the reapplication process easier for those who have worked intermittently but have a disability that, more than once within five years, prevents them from working.
Here’s what to know about how to qualify — and requalify — for Social Security disability insurance, or SSDI, benefits.
SSDI benefits have strict rules around who qualifies. These include rules regarding how long you have been disabled, when you apply and how long you worked before you became unable to work due to a qualifying disability.
Generally, you’re entitled to disability benefits if you meet all of the following requirements:
You have a qualifying disability. The Social Security Administration, or SSA, defines disability as a “medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months. This condition must make you unable to do the work you did before or any other “substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.” Different rules apply if you are blind or applying for survivors benefits.
You apply for SSDI benefits before your full retirement age. Full retirement age for Social Security is the age at which a person is entitled to 100% of their monthly Social Security retirement benefit. It ranges from 66 to 67. The SSA determines a person’s full retirement age based on their birth year.
You worked for at least five of the 10 years before your disability. Social Security awards people “credits” when they work and pay Social Security taxes. You can earn up to four credits per year of work. SSDI benefits require 40 work credits to qualify, 20 of which you earned within the 10 years before your disability. In 2023, you’ll receive one credit for each $1,640 of earnings, so you’ll need to earn at least $6,560 in five of 10 years to qualify. The SSA refers to qualifying with credits as being “insured” for your disability.
You have been disabled for five consecutive months. Due to this rule, you’ll receive your first benefit payment starting in the sixth month after you apply. However, if you’re found to have been eligible for SSDI benefits earlier due to disability onset, you can receive retroactive payments for up to the previous 12 months. And if you previously received SSDI benefits within the past five years, the SSDI five-year rule waives the five-month waiting period so you can resume benefits immediately.
» Learn more: Will my disability benefits change at retirement age?
How much will I get from SSDI benefits?
Your disability benefit payment from Social Security depends on your lifetime earnings. The SSA website has a calculator to estimate your monthly benefit payment.
How do I apply for disability benefits?
The SSA recommends applying for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. However, you may be able to receive back-paid benefits for up to the previous 12 months.
Here’s how to apply:
Fill out an application on the Social Security website.
Call the SSA phone line at 800-772-1213 or TTY 800-325-0778.
Visit your nearest Social Security office.
You can help someone else apply for disability benefits without being an authorized representative. You may need to answer additional questions about your relationship to the benefit recipient, and the recipient will need to electronically or physically sign the application.
» Learn more: Medicare for people with disabilities