Does Social Security Give Back Pay to Everyone Approved for Disability?

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Question

I applied for SSI last month. Will I get back pay? I heard that everyone gets some amount of back pay from Social Security.

Answer

Almost everyone who is approved for disability gets backpay, whether the claim is for SSDI or SSI, or both. Backpay (past due benefits) are paid out in just about every single disability case. This is true for this reason: Social Security disability cases, from start to finish, take a long time from application to decision, often a year or more. During that time, the meter is running, so to speak, and you're entitled to receive monthly payments from when you first applied for disability benefits (or earlier, for SSDI claims).

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance, which people pay into with their FICA taxes, just like for Social Security retirement. If Social Security approves you for SSDI benefits, they can actually pay you benefits for up to a year before your application date (assuming you were disabled before the application date). Social Security knows that you were "covered" under the SSDI insurance for the past year, so they can extend monthly payments for the time you were unable to work but hadn't applied.

For example, if you applied for SSDI on September 1, 2021, and Social Security agrees that you became disabled on March 15, 2020 (the date you were severely injured), you would be owed retroactive benefits going back to September 1, 2020.

If you're approved for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), you can get backpay only going back to your application date. (SSI is a government assistance program, which isn't as good as being insured for SSDI.) While SSI recipients can't get retroactive payments for the months before their application date, they can get months of backpay for the time they waited for a decision from Social Security. (Read about the difference between retroactive payments and backpay.)

For example, suppose you applied for SSI on September 4, 2021, and on January 3, 2022, Social Security approves you for benefits, saying that you became disabled on March 15, 2020. You would not get retroactive benefits going back to September 4, 2020, but you would be owed benefits going back to October 1, 2021, the first full month after your application date.

There's one exception to the "nearly everyone gets backpay" rule: SSDI recipients who have compassionate allowance conditions or terminal illnesses get their claims expedited, so they don't always get much, or any, backpay. Here's why. Applicants with expedited claims are usually approved for benefits within two to three months. And the SSDI program has a five-month waiting period that starts after the date Social Security finds that an applicant's disability started. So, for those with expedited claims, only those whose disability onset date was well before their application date will get a significant amount of backpay.

In most cases, however, since most disability cases typically drag on for very long periods, many claimants are usually eligible to receive one or more years of backpay. Learn more about how much backpay you can expect to receive.

Updated April 28, 2022

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