If I Am Approved for Disability, Will I Get a Lump Sum in Backpay?

Whether you'll get your back payments in one lump sum or installment payments depends on whether you were approved for SSDI or SSI.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 12/13/2023

If you're approved for Social Security or SSI disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will likely owe you hundreds or thousands of dollars in disability "back pay," mostly due to the time it takes the SSA to process disability claims. (For an overview of past-due payments, including how far back they go, see our article on Social Security back pay.)

When you receive the back payments will depend on whether you've been approved for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both.

Will I Get a Lump-Sum Payment for My SSI Back Pay?

If you're approved for SSI disability benefits, you'll receive your back pay in either one lump-sum amount or, if the amount of back pay owed to you is large, in three smaller installment payments. The same is true if you were approved for both SSI and SSDI.

How Much Are the SSI Installment Payments?

If the back pay owed to you is more than three times the maximum monthly SSI benefit amount, the SSA will pay you in partial installment payments. In 2024, the maximum federal SSI monthly benefit is $943 (but your amount may be different if your state pays an SSI supplement).

This means that, if the SSA owes you more than $2,829, you won't receive it in one lump sum. The backpay installments will be made in three payments, at six-month intervals.

But the installment payments aren't likely to be in equal amounts. The first two payments can't be more than three times your maximum monthly benefit. For example, if Social Security owes you $9,000, and your monthly benefit is $943, your first two payments will be for $2,829 each. The remainder of your back pay will be paid in the third installment, regardless of the amount. In the above example, the third installment payment would be in the amount of $3,342.

Can I Request Larger Installment Payments?

Social Security will recognize urgent needs to receive the full amount of SSI back pay in certain situations. You can request the SSA to increase the first and second payments if you need funds to:

  • purchase a home
  • pay for necessary medical needs, or
  • pay off debts related to necessities (housing, food, or clothing).

Medical necessities can include:

  • a car (if it's necessary to get to doctors' appointments or medical treatment)
  • a mobile phone (if it's needed to contact medical offices), or
  • a computer (if used for Social Security's website or online services).

Housing debts can include:

  • past-due rent
  • mortgage payments
  • property insurance
  • taxes, and
  • utilities (gas, electric, water, sewer, and garbage).

Can I Request My SSI Back Pay in One Lump Sum Even If It's Large?

If you don't need the back pay right away for any of the above reasons, Social Security could still pay you in one lump sum if:

  • you aren't expected to live more than 12 months, or
  • you became ineligible for SSI after you were approved for benefits.

If you think you might be eligible for larger first and second installment payments, or one lump sum, talk to a field representative at your local Social Security office.

Is There a Disability Back Pay Minimum?

SSI back pay is paid only for the months following the SSI application date to the approval date. Many people who are approved for SSI only are disappointed in the small amount of back pay they receive, and they wonder if there is an SSI back pay minimum. Social Security doesn't have a rule requiring the agency to pay a certain minimum amount of back pay. Here's how SSI back pay is calculated.

Will the Lump Sum Affect My Eligibility for SSI Benefits?

If you receive past-due payments of SSDI as part of your back payments, the SSDI payments will be considered unearned income in the month that you receive them, which could affect your SSI payment for the month. Generally, someone who is eligible for both SSDI and SSI benefits won't get an SSI payment for the month they receive a lump sum of back pay.

But for nine months, Social Security won't count the backpay as a "resource" (asset) against you, even if you keep it in your bank account. After nine months, you would have to spend some money if keeping it would put you over Social Security's asset limit ($2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple).

You can spend the money on something that Social Security doesn't count as a resource, such as a car or household goods, and it won't affect your SSI eligibility. Read more about how to safely spend your disability back pay.

But make sure that you document how you spend your lump-sum payment. If the back pay is no longer in your bank account after nine months, Social Security will require proof and receipts of how you spent the money. If you don't have proof, the agency might believe that you still have the money hidden somewhere or that you gave it to family members. (And giving money away could lead Social Security to hit you with a "transfer penalty" for a number of months.) Unless you can convince Social Security that you spent the money on necessities or resources that are excluded, such as a car), the agency might find you ineligible for SSI. (20 C.F.R. § 1210.)

Will I Get a Lump-Sum Payment for SSDI?

If you're approved for SSDI benefits alone, you'll receive the backpay as one lump-sum payment. SSDI back payments are never paid in installments.

When you're approved for SSDI, you'll usually receive a significant amount of back pay. The average SSDI backpay amount is higher than the average SSI backpay amount because you can receive SSDI payments for the months you were disabled before your application date.

SSDI backpay can cover a period starting as early as 12 months before your application date all the way until the date you were approved. How much backpay you'll receive depends on your disability onset date, your application date, and the date you were approved for benefits.

Learn more about how SSDI back pay is calculated.

Can I Get a Lump-Sum Settlement of My SSDI Rather Than Monthly Payments?

In addition to your back pay, you'll also be entitled to monthly SSDI payments. Social Security's rules don't allow you to receive your monthly benefits in the form of a lump-sum settlement; you must collect them on a monthly basis. Unlike some workers' comp benefits, you can't request a settlement of your Social Security disability benefits.

How Will You Receive Your Disability Back Pay?

Your award letter will state the amount of your backpay check and when you'll receive it. Most new disability recipients are required to receive their back payments and monthly payments by direct deposit.

Sometimes people receive their backpay check before their regular monthly payments start, and other times they have to wait a few weeks for the backpay check. Social Security generally takes about three weeks to two months to start sending regular monthly payments.

Keep in mind your lump-sum check for SSDI back payments might be subject to taxes. For more information, read our article on how disability backpay is taxed.

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