A protective filing date means different things depending on whether the disability applicant is approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To understand protective filing dates, it helps to understand a bit about eligibility for Social Security disability.
SSDI is available to people who have worked for employers who paid taxes to Social Security. SSDI works similarly to homeowners or renters insurance in the sense that premiums are paid (in the form of taxes) to insure against future disability. Just like homeowner’s insurance, if the premium is not paid, coverage ends. Oftentimes people with a disability quit working before they have been approved for disability benefits. This means that that their SSDI “premium” is no longer being paid by an employer and that their SSDI coverage will eventually run out. The date the SSDI eligibility ends is called the "date last insured" (DLI). If you apply for disability after your DLI, you will be denied because you are no longer covered by your SSDI “policy.” (For more information on the dates you are covered, see our article on SSDI's date last insured.)
SSI is a federal income supplement for disabled people who don’t have a qualifying work history. Unlike SSDI, SSI isn’t insurance. This means that as long as you can prove you are disabled and that you meet the income and asset requirements, you can receive SSI.
Why Does a Protective Filing Date Matter for SSDI?
The SSA allows for what it called a “protective filing date.” A protective filing date marks the time when a disability applicant made a written statement of his or her intent to file for SSDI. If an applicant initiates the filing process online and gets part way through the application, this can help establish a protective filing date as well.
SSDI and Date Last Insured
A protective filing date can make an applicant's "insurance" last longer. If an applicant establishes a protective filing date before the applicant's DLI has passed, the applicant will still be eligible for SSDI even if he or she completes the application after his or her DLI has passed.
Example 1. John worked for Acme Company for 10 years before he stopped working in 2007 due to a back injury. His DLI is September 1, 2012. John wrote to the SSA on June 1, 2012, and advised them he intended to file for SSDI. June 1, 2012, became his protective filing date. John eventually filed for disability on October 1, 2012, after his DLI had passed; however, because his protective filing date was before his DLI, he was still eligible for SSDI.
Example 2. Mary also worked for Acme Company for 10 years until she had to stop due to a heart condition. Her DLI was on September 1, 2012. However, she did not contact the SSA about applying for disability until October 1, 2012. Because Mary did not notify the SSA about her intent to file, nor did she file a disability application before her DLI, she is not eligible for SSDI.
While applicants who can prove their disability started before the DLI passed can still be eligible for benefits, proving this can be difficult. You can learn more about this in our article on DLI and disability onset dates.
SSDI and Retroactive Benefits
If you are approved for SSDI, you can receive up to a full year of retroactive benefits based on your protective filing date. (Your filing date is the date of your application if you didn't notify the SSA at an earlier point that you would be applying for disability benefits.)
But, since SSDI benefits do not start until five months after the SSA determines you became disabled, and because the SSA will only award retroactive benefits for the 12 months prior to your protective filing date, you need to have been disabled at least 17 months prior to your protective filing date (five-month wait period plus 12 months retroactive benefit eligibility) to receive a full year of retroactive benefit payments.
Example. John’s protective filing date was January 1, 2012. He applied for disability benefits on April 1, 2012. He was approved for benefits in July 2012, and the SSA determined that he became disabled on October 1, 2010. John will be eligible for benefits on March 1, 2011 (because of the five-month waiting period.) John will receive retroactive benefits for the dates March 1, 2011, to January 1, 2012 (his protective filing date). He will also receive back payments for the period from his protective filing date (January 1, 2012) to the date he was approved, in July 2012.
For more information on these calculations, see our article on the difference between back pay and retroactive payments.
Why Does a Protective Filing Date Matter for SSI?
An SSI applicant is given a protective filing date when he or she calls the SSA or visits a Social Security office and asks about applying for disability benefits.
Sometimes there are a few months between the first contact with the SSA and the actual filing of the disability application. The SSI applicant can receive back pay to the protective filing date (up to two months earlier than the filing date) as long as the SSA determines the person was disabled at the time of the protective filing date. This means that the SSI recipient may be able to receive back payments for a couple of extra months with a protective filing date that's earlier than the actual filing date.
Example. Barbara called the SSA to discuss disability benefits on January 1, 2012. She then visited a SSA office and filed for disability benefits on March 31, 2012. Barbara did not qualify for SSDI, but she met the asset and income requirements for SSI. Barbara’s protective filing date was January 1, 2012. On January 1, 2014, the SSA found that Barbara became disabled on January 1, 2011. Barbara can receive back pay from the month following her protective filing date (February 1, 2012), to the date she was approved for benefits (January 1, 2014).
How Do I Establish a Protective Filing Date?
SSDI. For SSDI, to establish a protective filing date you must:
- send a signed written notification that clearly states your intent to file for disability within the next six months
- if you filed for disability online, include the date you completed the Internet Claim Applicant Identification screen and received an Application Number
- include a clear statement of intent (for example, "I plan to file for disability benefits")
- make sure the statement is signed by you, a qualified third party (like a guardian), or by an SSA employee, and
- file your application within six months of the date you send or submit the letter.
SSI. To establish a protective filing date for SSI, you need only to call the SSA or go to a field office to inquire about SSI. If you initiate the filing process online and get part way through the application, this can establish a protective filing date as well. However, you must apply within two months of inquiring about benefits or starting the online application to keep your protective filing date.
There is no downside to getting a protective filing date, but remember, you must apply for disability benefits within the required timeframe (six months for SSDI and two months for SSI) or you will lose your protective filing date.