SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
Social Security Disability and SSI Questions and Answers
What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?
How do you Win Benefits under Social Security Disability or SSI?
If I am determined disabled, how far back will Social Security pay benefits?
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition?
What Can I Do to Improve My Chances of Winning Disability Benefits
Common Mistakes after Receiving a Denial of Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits
How to File for Disability - Tips for Filing
If You Get Approved For SSDI Will You Also Get Medicare?
How much does a Social Security disability attorney get paid?
Social Security Disability SSI Criteria and the Evaluation Process
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability SSI and Fibromyalgia
Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Can I Qualify For Disability and Receive Benefits based on Depression?
More questions about SSD and SSI
What Disabilities Qualify for SSI and Social Security Disability Benefits?
Social Security Disability Status
Social Security Disability Tips — how a claim gets worked on
Social Security Disability, SSI Disability - Terms, Definitions, Concepts
What is Social Security Back Pay?
How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits
What is Social Security back pay? Back pay means just that, the back payment of disability benefits to individuals who have months of entitlement to Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in the past.
How far back a Social Security disability applicant will receive payment depends upon three factors.
Date of Application
The date you file a disability application is the first factor that affects the amount of your disability back payment. Social Security disability allows for a retroactive payment of disability benefits for the twelve months prior to the application date provided you have been unable to work due to your condition.
This means you could receive A) retroactive benefits for some months prior to their filing date and B) a full twelve months of retroactive disability benefits if your have been unable to work at a substantial level for seventeen months or more.
Date of Onset
The second factor that affects Social Security back pay is the date of onset. The date of onset is the date a person became unable to work at a substantial work activity level (this is equal to a monthly amount of gross wage earnings -- basically, it is an income limit for disability benefits that is determined by social security each year and to be considered disabled you cannot earn more than this amount) because of a physical or mental impairment.
The third factor is what establishes the month of entitlement for disability benefits and the amount of retroactive disability payments.
The Five Month Waiting Period
The Social Security disability waiting period is called a "waiting period" but it does not always necessarily make an approved claimant wait five months before receiving disability benefits. It does, however, effectively confiscate their first five months of benefits. Which is why a Social Security disability beneficiary can only receive a maximum twelve months of retroactive disability benefits if they have an established disability onset date that is seventeen months in the past.
Due to how long most cases drag on throughout the appeal process, of course, many claimants are never affected by the waiting period. In other words, so much time has passed from the moment they originally filed for disability and the time that they were approved that the waiting period has been concluded.
This is often dependent, of course, on how far back the claimant's disability is considered to have begun (onset date), according to the medical evidence. And here we should mention that this is one of the chief benefits of representation at the disability hearing level since a qualified disability attorney or disability representative will attempt to establish the earliest and most favorable onset date possible, and obtain evidence to support this.
How much Back Pay?
The amount of a Social Security back payment can be substantial if a claimant has to appeal their disability case to an administrative law judge. Since there are significant hearing backlogs at most disability hearings offices across the county, Social Security disability beneficiaries are often entitled to large disability back payments by the time they are approved by a judge.
Since all back payments begin with the month of entitlement to disability benefits, if a beneficiary has twelve months of retroactive disability benefits and it takes a year or more to get to their hearing, they could be looking at least twenty-four months of disability benefit back pay.
SSD versus SSI
There are differences between the Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income disability programs that affect back payment of disability benefits.
For instance, SSI disability beneficiaries are not entitled to any kind of retroactive disability benefits. Their disability entitlement date can be no earlier than the date they filed their disability application; thus, no retroactivity.
However, they are also not subject to any kind of waiting period like Social Security disability beneficiaries. It does not matter when they are approved for disability benefits, they will receive disability benefits back to the date they filed their disability claim.
By contrast, Social Security disability beneficiaries will always be subject to a five month waiting period; though, as was mentioned, many, if not most, claimants do not actually have to endure a waiting period before their monthly benefits begin to arrive.
Note: Claimants who are approved on their initial claim, i.e. disability application, will be more likely to actually wait five months before receiving benefits because not much time has accrued on their case through the filing of appeals.
Return to: SSDRC, or the Social Security Disability Questions page