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. 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). (For an overview of past due payments, including how far back they go, see our article on Social Security back pay.)
If you were approved for SSI disability benefits, you will 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.
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 2023, the maximum federal SSI monthly benefit is $914 (but your amount may be different if your state pays an SSI supplement).
This means that, if the SSA owes you more than $2,742, you won't receive it in one lump sum. The backpay installments will be made in three payments, at six-month intervals. But the payments are not 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 $6,000, and your monthly benefit is $914, your first two payments will be for $2,742 each. The remainder of backpay 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 $516.
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:
Medical necessities can include:
Housing debts can include:
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:
If you think you may be eligible for larger first and second installment payments, or one lump sum, talk to a field representative at your local Social Security office.
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.
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.
But for nine months, Social Security won't count the backpay as a "resource" 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). But if you spend the money on something that Social Security doesn't count as a resource, such as a car or household goods, they won't affect your SSI eligibility. Read more about how to safely spend your disability backpay.
If you were 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 backpay. 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 prior to 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 backpay is calculated.
In addition to your backpay, you'll also be entitled to monthly SSDI payments. Social Security's rules do not allow you to receive monthly 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.
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 sometimes they have to wait a few weeks for the backpay check. Social Security generally takes about three weeks to two months to start sending your 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.
Updated April 24, 2023