Can I Get Disability Backpay From the Date of My Prior Social Security Application?

If you applied for disability benefits more than once, you might get back pay from an earlier application.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law
Updated 12/13/2023

how Social Security disability back pay is calculatedIf you submit multiple applications before your claim for disability benefits is eventually approved, the Social Security Administration (SSA) might use a prior application date to determine how much back pay you'll receive.

Using a prior application date can significantly increase the amount of back due benefits you're awarded. But before the SSA will use a date from an earlier application, the agency must reopen your previous claim.

When Does Social Security Allow Back Pay From a Prior Application?

Social Security doesn't reopen prior applications on its own. If you want to reopen an old claim in order to get more back pay, you'll need to ask the agency when you file a new claim.

Whether the SSA will reopen your prior application depends on the following factors:

Reopening for Any Reason

Social Security can reopen a prior application for SSDI or SSI for any reason within 12 months of a final decision by Disability Determination Services or an administrative law judge. Reopening is at the agency's discretion, and they can deny your request.

Reopening for Good Cause

Social Security can reopen claims older than 12 months if the agency finds there is "good cause" to do so. Good cause exists when:

  • you provide evidence that existed at the time of the previous decision but wasn't considered by the decision-maker and could have resulted in a different outcome (the evidence is "new and material")
  • the SSA made a clerical error when computing your benefits (including back pay), or
  • your decision contained an obvious error, such as referring to a medical record that belongs to a different person ("error on the face").

The maximum amount of time that Social Security can go back to reopen a prior application due to good cause depends on the type of disability benefit the application was for:

  • four years for SSDI claims, and
  • two years for SSI claims.

Reopening for Fraud

Social Security can reopen an SSDI or SSI claim at any time if the agency suspects that the decision was the result of fraud or misrepresentation (for example, your doctor falsified records).

For more information, see our article on reopening a Social Security disability claim.

How Much Can I Get In Back Pay From My Prior Claim?

If Social Security agrees to reopen your previous application and you're ultimately awarded disability benefits, the agency will calculate your back pay based on the protective filing date of your prior claim.

The protective filing date is the date that you first let the SSA know that you intended to file for benefits. For example, if you start your disability application online on January 1, 2024 but you complete and submit it on February 15, 2024, your protective filing date will be January 1, 2024.

Protective filing dates work slightly differently depending on whether you file for SSDI or SSI.

  • For SSDI, your protective filing date needs to be in writing (either online, by mail, or in person), and you have up to six months from that date to finish and submit your application. If you're approved for benefits, you can receive up to one year of back pay prior to your protective filing date.
  • For SSI, you can simply state your intention to apply in person or over the phone, but you have 60 days from that date to finish your application. If you're approved for benefits, you can receive back pay beginning the first day of the month after your protective filing date.

The past due amounts can become quite substantial if you're successful in reopening your prior application, as they can reflect years of back pay.

How Is Back Pay Calculated?

Social Security calculates your back payments based on the type of disability benefit you receive. Generally, your back pay is the monthly amount of your benefit times the number of months the agency determines that you've been disabled.

  • SSI recipients can receive back payments of the monthly benefit ($943 maximum in 2024) back to the month following their protective filing date as long as Social Security finds that they were disabled on that date.

In either case, the SSA can't pay you benefits from before you became disabled. For more information, see our article on how Social Security disability back pay.

Contact an Attorney for Help

Convincing Social Security that you meet the agency's requirements for reopening an earlier claim can be difficult, but well worth the effort. Doing so successfully almost always requires the help of an experienced disability attorney or representative.

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