Social Security Disability SSI - Retroactive Benefits Vs Back Pay Benefits

Back pay

Many disability beneficiaries confuse retroactive benefits with back payment of benefits in general. This is understandable. Before going further, we should just say that back pay is whatever amount of past due benefits that Social Security may owe you after your case is won. Back pay can go all the way back to the time you filed your claim. Retroactive benefits, when they are paid, are simply a part of back pay.

However, retroactive benefits are payments you receive for months that occurred BEFORE you decided to file for disability, presuming you were disabled during that time.

Retroactive benefits

Now for an explanation of retroactive benefits that, unfortunately, may be confusing the first time it is read.

As with all disability benefits, retroactive benefits are based upon the date of filing and the established date of onset of disability. When a disability applicant files a disability claim, the filing date of their application determines possible retroactive benefit months, just as it determines how much total backpay a person may receive.

For example, if an applicant has not been able to perform SGA (i.e. work at the SGA earnings level) for seventeen months or more due to their disabling impairment prior to the date they filed their disability application, they may potentially receive twelve months of retroactive benefits...provided that they were disabled for that time period prior to their date of application.

Why only twelve months?

Social Security Disability has a five-month waiting period for which they never pay month benefits that begins the month following the month of onset (unless the applicant became disabled on the first of the month) and ends five months later.

For this reason, disability applicants must have been unable to perform SGA-level work for seventeen months rather than twelve months prior to the date they filed their disability claim to get twelve months of retroactive benefits. Retroactive benefit months can go backward from the time of filing a claim, to a maximum of twelve months.

Of course, Social Security must have medical evidence to establish that the applicant was disabled at least seventeen months previous to their disability filing date. Additionally, retroactive benefits can only be paid to disability applicants who are eligible for Social Security Disability.

The need based SSI (Supplemental Security Income) disability program does not pay retroactive disability benefits -- benefits can only begin the month the disability claim was filed provided the applicant met the income and resource limits at that time.

So, what about back payment of disability benefits? Both SSI and Social Security Disability applicants may be able to receive back pay. As with retroactive benefits, back payment disability benefits are dependent upon an individual's date of filing and established onset of disability.

Back payment of benefits begins with the month an individual becomes eligible for disability benefits (SSI disability beneficiaries can receive disability benefits for all months including the month of filing but no earlier than the date of filing).

If an individual is not approved for disability benefits on their initial disability claim, they must begin an appeal process that can take many months or even years. If they are eventually approved for disability benefits, Social Security may have to pay them back payment benefits for all months beginning with the month the applicant became eligible for their month disability benefits.

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