The Difference Between Retroactive Disability Benefits and Back Payments

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I'm awaiting a decision from Social Security on disability for various medical issues. I applied nine months ago, and my claim has had delay after delay. If I'm found disabled, will I get paid for the monthly disability benefits I'm missing?


If you are approved for Social Security disability benefits, the chances are good that you will be eligible for back payments and possibly retroactive payments also, depending upon when you became disabled, when you applied, and when you were approved.

What is the difference between back payments (a.k.a. backpay) and retroactive benefits? Back payments are past due benefits, the benefits that the SSA would have started to pay you right away if it were able to approve you immediately after you applied. In other words, back payments are owed to you from your application date to the date that the SSA approves you for disability benefits. Back payments are payable for both Social Security disability and SSI disability claims.

Retroactive benefits, on the other hand, can be paid for the months you were disabled and unable to work before you applied for disability benefits. Only SSDI applicants are eligible for retroactive benefits. (Successful SSI applicants are paid benefits for the month following their application and onward, not before.)

To be paid retroactive SSDI benefits, you must be able to prove that you were disabled before you applied for Social Security disability and, actually, that you were disabled at least five months before your application date. (This is due to a five-month waiting period for SSDI applicants, similar to the "elimination period" in a private long-term disability policy.) Learn more about calculating how much in retroactive SSDI benefits and backpay you should receive.

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