Stephen Kates, Certified Financial Planner™ and personal finance expert
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    Stephen Kates, CFP®

    Stephen Kates, CFP®

    Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and Founder of Clocktower Financial Consulting

    Stephen Kates is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and personal finance expert with over a decade of experience working with individuals and families who need help with their finances. With experience as a financial advisor for two of the largest financial firms in the country, Stephen has worked with hundreds of clients to build comprehensive financial plans to grow and protect their wealth.

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    Michael Santiago

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    Michael Santiago, a senior financial editor, joined RetireGuide in 2023. With over 10 years of professional writing and editing experience, he brings a wealth of expertise in creating content for diverse industries, including travel and healthcare. Having traveled to more than 40 countries across five continents and lived in Europe and Asia for several years, Michael's global perspective enriches his work. He combines his strong writing skills, editorial judgment and passion for crafting accurate and engrossing content to enhance the user experience on RetireGuide.

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    Brandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA

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  • Published: October 4, 2023
  • Updated: October 6, 2023
  • 7 min read time
  • This page features 9 Cited Research Articles
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How to Cite's Article

APA Kates, S. (2023, October 6). Social Security Disability 5 Year Rule. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

MLA Kates, Stephen. "Social Security Disability 5 Year Rule.", 6 Oct 2023,

Chicago Kates, Stephen. "Social Security Disability 5 Year Rule." Last modified October 6, 2023.

Key Takeaways
  • The 5-Year Rule eliminates a five-month waiting period if you have previously received SSDI benefits within five years.
  • To get coverage, you must have a qualifying disability and meet the work requirements for SSDI.
  • Exemptions to the five-year rule apply for people younger than 31 years of age, with disability onset before age 22, the blind, certain severe medical conditions and veterans with service-related disabilities.
  • The rule doesn’t eliminate the application process or the medical review.

What Is the Social Security Disability 5-Year Rule?

The rule benefits individuals with fluctuating disabilities and those with progressive chronic disabilities, providing crucial support for those facing varying health challenges. However, applicants must meet the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) definition of disability and must not have reached full retirement age to be eligible for these benefits.

You are generally required to wait for five months before receiving SSDI benefits. The five year rule provides a workaround for those who have received SSDI in the past.
Brandon Renfro, RetireGuide Reviewer
Brandon Renfro Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA

Meeting the Requirements of the 5-Year Rule

There are various SSDI requirements you must meet to qualify for SSDI benefits under the five-year rule.

SSDI Requirements Under the Five-Year Rule:
  • Your recent work history
  • Age
  • Qualifying disabilities
  • Work credits

You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least five of the past 10 years before becoming disabled. You must be younger than your full retirement age and have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Additionally, the disability must last for at least one year, be expected to last one year or result in death. Finally, you must have accumulated a certain number of work credits for your age.

The five-year rule specifically applies to SSDI eligibility. It’s separate from the Supplemental Security Income program. Reach out to the Social Security Administration directly or consult with a disability attorney or advocate if you need help with the SSDI application process.

Work Credits

Work credits are a measure of how much you have worked, earned and contributed to the Social Security system. They decide whether you’re eligible for SSDI benefits. In 2023, you earn one work credit for every $1,640 of wages or self-employment income and can earn up to four work credits per year. For the maximum four credits in one year, you must earn $6,560 that year.

The minimum number of work credits you need to be eligible for SSDI benefits depends on your age when the disability begins. Generally, individuals aged 31 or older require a minimum of 20 earned credits in the 10 years leading up to the onset of their disability.

This implies that you must have worked for at least five of the past 10 years before your disability commenced, hence the name “five-year rule.” However, individuals under the age of 31 who become disabled may still be eligible for benefits, even if they have accumulated fewer credits.

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Exceptions and Special Situations Regarding the 5-Year Rule

Although the five-year rule has strict requirements on who can receive SSDI benefits, exceptions and special situations exist. Grounds for exceptions include age, profession, type of disability and previous disability access.

Who Still Qualifies Under the 5-Year Rule?
  1. Workers under the age of 31. Workers under the age of 31 may qualify for SSDI benefits with fewer work credits depending on their age and how long they have worked since they turned 21 years of age.
  2. Disabled adult children. If a child of a disabled person becomes disabled before turning 22 and remains unmarried, the child may qualify for SSDI benefits based on their parent’s work record.
  3. Veterans. A veteran with a service-connected disability that began or worsened while on active duty may qualify for SSDI benefits provided they were honorably discharged.
  4. Blind individuals. A blind person may qualify for SSDI benefits with less than five years of work history, provided they worked for at least one quarter in each of the three preceding calendar years.
  5. Previous SSDI recipients. A disabled person who previously received SSDI benefits within the last five years may qualify again without waiting another five months.

What Are Compassionate Allowances?

A compassionate allowance is a special provision in the SSDI program. It identifies and provides support to individuals with conditions that are likely to meet the SSA’s definition of disability.

The program allows people with certain severe medical conditions to bypass the work history requirement under the five-year rule and qualify for SSDI benefits. Veterans with a disability or a severe service-related condition that prevents them from working can benefit from compassionate allowances, regardless of their military service history.

With input from medical experts, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines the conditions that qualify. They include severe and often life-threatening maladies such as advanced-stage cancers, certain neurological disorders and rare genetic disorders that prevent you from working.

The provision offers a lifeline to individuals who may not possess a substantial work history but are in desperate need of financial support.

Applying for Disability Benefits Under the 5-Year Rule

To apply for disability benefits under the five-year rule, gather your documentation and go through the application process. The SSA will review your packet, evaluate the severity of your condition, decide your eligibility for disability benefits and inform you of their decision.

Documentation and Application Process

You first must collect all the relevant and up-to-date medical documentation that supports your disability claim, such as diagnoses, treatment history, medications and other relevant medical information.

You can apply online, over the phone or by visiting your local Social Security office. You must present correct personal information, such as your social security number, birth certificate or other proof of birth, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, U.S. military discharge papers if applicable, W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns for the last year. Furthermore, you will be required to provide your medical records.

The SSA will review your application and assess your current medical condition. It will also look at your ability to work using a five-step sequential evaluation process.

If you’re entitled to benefits, the SSA will send you a letter with the amount and date of your first payment. If it denies your claim, it will send you a letter explaining the denial and how to appeal it.

To increase your chances of a successful application:
  • Apply as soon as possible.
  • Keep accurate and up-to-date copies of all your documents and records about your disability and work history.
  • Follow up with the SSA regularly and promptly respond to requests for more information.
  • Seek help and guidance from a qualified disability attorney or advocate.
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FAQs About Social Security Disability’s 5-Year Rule

How does the Social Security Disability 5-Year Rule impact your eligibility for benefits?
The rule requires applicants to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least five out of the past 10 years before they can qualify for SSDI benefits.
Are there any exceptions or special circumstances that can waive the 5-year work requirement for disability benefits?
Yes, these exemptions and special circumstances apply to workers under the age of 31, children of disabled adults, veterans, people who are blind, certain catastrophic conditions and previous SSDI recipients.
What medical conditions qualify for disability benefits without having to meet the 5-year work requirement?
Certain advanced-stage cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, liver cancer and acute leukemia are qualifiers. In addition, there are some neurological disorders, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease and early-onset Alzheimer's disease that will qualify you.

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Last Modified: October 6, 2023

9 Cited Research Articles

  1. Lisa, A. (2023, June 26). Social Security: The ‘5-Year Rule’ You Need To Know Before You Retire. Retrieved from
  2. National Council on Aging. (2022, March 16). SSI vs. SSDI: The Differences, Benefits, and How to Apply. Retrieved from
  3. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Code Of Federal Regulations. Retrieved from
  4. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Disability Benefits. Retrieved from
  5. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Disability Benefits | How You Qualify. Retrieved from
  6. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Social Security Credits. Retrieved from
  7. (n.d.). Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. Retrieved from
  8. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Compassionate Allowances. Retrieved from
  9. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Apply Online for Disability Benefits. Retrieved from