How much Disability Back Pay will you get?

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 before you actually applied for disability, i.e. prior to the application date. This, of course, is 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, known as SGA, because of a physical or mental impairment.

What is substantial gainful activity? This is working and earning more than a certain amount. It 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. Here is the current SGA amount.

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 actually 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 will you receive?

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 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 1. who are approved on their initial claim, i.e. disability application and 2. who can only prove that their disability began very recently 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.

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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