How do you get the most in Social Security back pay?

How do you get the most in Social Security Disability or SSI back pay?

Before we get into a discussion of back pay, let's address the main question up front: How do you get the most back pay? By proving that your medical disability began as far back as you can possibly prove it.

That, of course, is a matter of medical records. Medical records serve two purposes: They prove that a person is currently disabled. They also prove when the disability began. Which directly impacts back pay.

Now, how does back pay work?

Generally, you do not have any real control over the amount of your disability back pay. How is back pay determined? It starts with when you filed your claim. Date of application is the first factor for SSI and SSD disability claims.

However, to answer the question of why so many people get very large sums in backpay, we should point out that your back pay is generally increased by the length of time it takes for your disability claim to be approved.

When disability claims take over a year or more, due to processing times and the need for appeals, the past due amount owed can become quite large.

Back pay and SSI disability claims

When a claim is for SSI only, then back pay can only go back to the date of application. So, the medical records need to prove that you were disabled at least as far back as when you filed for disability in order to give you the most in SSI benefits.

Back pay and SSD disability claims

For SSD claims, back pay goes back to the date of application, but can also potentially go back 12 months before this date. These are called retroactive months.

Note: SSD claims are subject to a five month waiting period. Usually, this does not mean waiting at all. It just means that SSA will take your first five months of benefits from you.

So'if your disability claim is approved at the initial level, you may receive up to 12 months of retroactive benefits along with additional back pay months. If you were not performing SGA'which means you were not working and earning more than the allowable amount--for 17 months prior to the date you filed your disability claim, you will receive 12 retroactive months.

Of course, while there is a maximum of 12 months for retroactive back pay, you could also be eligible for a lesser amount. And, as we said, in addition to retroactive months you are entitled to receive benefits for any months accrued prior to your approval.

Again, why are some back payments so large when people are approved? Well, if you are not approved with your initial disability claim, the back payment of benefits will continue to grow provided you use the Social Security Disability appeal process.

Actually, sometimes it may be better to have a small back pay or no back pay at all provided you are approved for monthly disability benefits. Why is this? Because large backpay amounts are based on a lot of waiting. If you are approved sooner than later, it may mean that you have to endure much less financial hardship.

Still, if you are unable to be approved for disability with your initial claim, it is good to know that there is the possibility of a large back payment in the future.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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