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When Do I Get SSDI or SSI Back Pay?

The Social Security Administration, or SSA, issues payments to claimants after they’ve successfully filed, known as “back pay.” It is also referred to as the more official-sounding “retro benefits” or “past due benefits.”  The amount you get depends upon the type of benefits, when the benefits began, and when you filed the claim.

For SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, the back pay is retroactive only to the Date of Filing, or the date you submitted your initial application. Suppose you had been disabled and qualified for benefits for a number of years, but waited to file a claim, you would only be eligible from the time of your filing – not from the date your disability began. That’s as far back as your past due benefits world go.

If a claimant were eligible for Title II benefits, the pack pay would have a five month waiting period, beginning from the “onset date,” or the date their disability began.  These benefits are also known as DIB, or Disability Insurance Benefits.  They are also known by the acronym SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), and for the purposes of our blog the one we refer to them by. The SSDI payments are, unlike SSI, based on work credits.  To be eligible for SSDI you have to show they’ve worked a minimum number of days in a year.  Very simply put, if you’ve worked five out of the last 10 years, you could be eligible. You may search this blog for more detailed information about SSDI eligibility.

How your back pay is distributed depends on whether you’ve been approved for SSI, SSDI, or BOTH.  Even if you’ve been living on a shoestring budget for several months since becoming disabled, the SSA won’t always grant your back pay immediately after your case is approved. Cases that go before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) take longer. Also, it’s important to note the back pay is not paid in one lump sum if you’re getting SSI.  It is paid incrementally, or in installments.  The SSA says that paying everyone in a lump sum would put too much of a strain on the system.

SSDI benefits can build up either from the initial date of your application, or as far back as 12 months before the date of your application, minus a five-month waiting period. This five month period is pretty much a way to eliminate what would have been your first five months of benefits, but the longer you wait for your back pay, the less the five month waiting period affects you.  Confusing? Let’s take a closer look in two examples.

First, if your claim is approved five months after you apply for benefits, you will not be entitled to back pay. If the SSA approves your claim 12 months after your application is submitted, you will receive seven months of back pay.

Second, if your claim is approved two years (24 months) after the date of your application, you will be entitled to 12 months of back pay.  How is this possible, you ask? How does the math work?

A 24 month period minus the five month waiting period should equal 19 months of back pay, right?  You’d think so, but the limit for back pay is 12 months!

Back pay owed under SSDI benefits is paid differently than under SSI. Unlike SSI, which is paid in installments, SSDI back pay can be paid all at once in a lump sum.

An important consideration is the amount you can get under SSI is based on your income.  If you are eligible for both SSI and SSDI, your lump sum back payment under SSDI will be counted as income for SSI purposes, and could cause it to be reduced.

The best way to work your way through this back pay maze is to talk to a qualified Social Security Disability attorney. He or she could advise you on your claim, helping you file it to establish a more favorable onset date, helping you get the most back pay possible.