The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows some applicants to use what's called a "protective filing date." Your protective filing date is established when you first contact Social Security and indicate that you plan to apply for disability benefits. But how you notify Social Security of your intent can affect when that date is set.
If you're applying for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, your protective filing date is established on the day Social Security receives a written statement of your intent to file a claim. For Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, an oral inquiry (like a phone call) is enough to establish your protective filing date.
Here's a look at this important date, how it can affect your claim, and the differences between setting a protective filing date for SSDI and SSI.
Having an earlier date count as your protective filing date can affect how your disability claim plays out—including your eligibility for benefits. But it can mean different things depending on whether you're applying for SSDI or SSI disability.
To understand the effect of protective filing dates and what it means, it helps to understand a bit about the non-medical eligibility requirements for Social Security disability benefits.
To be eligible for SSDI benefits, you must have worked and paid taxes to Social Security (FICA or self-employment tax) for long enough to earn enough "work credits." SSDI is essentially insurance against disability. Like with home or car insurance, you pay premiums (in this case, in the form of taxes), and if you stop paying the premium, your coverage ends.
It's not uncommon for someone with a disability to quit working before being approved for Social Security disability benefits. But if you do this, it means that your SSDI "premium" is no longer being paid and your SSDI coverage will eventually run out (though not right away).
The date your SSDI eligibility ends is called the "date last insured" (DLI). If you apply for disability after your DLI, Social Security will deny your claim because you're no longer covered by your SSDI "policy." But if you establish a protective filing date before your DLI, Social Security treats your application the same as if you had filed it on your protective filing date—even if you actually file it after your DLI.
(Learn more about how Social Security calculates your date last insured for SSDI.)
SSI is a federal income supplement for disabled people with few financial resources. It's available to those who don't have a qualifying work history for SSDI and who meet Social Security's income and asset limits.
And unlike SSDI, SSI isn't insurance. This means that as long as you can prove you're disabled and that you meet the income and asset requirements, you can receive SSI benefits. There's no DLI when it comes to SSI benefits, but having a protective filing date for SSI can affect how much you can get in Social Security back pay.
A protective filing date marks the time when you made a written statement of your intent to file an SSDI claim. If you initiate the filing process online and get part way through the application, this can help establish a protective filing date as well.
A protective filing date can make your disability "insurance" last longer. If you establish a protective filing date before your DLI has passed, you'll still be eligible for SSDI even if you complete the application after your DLI has passed.
If Social Security approves your SSDI claim, you can receive up to a full year of retroactive benefits based on your actual filing date or protective filing date. (Your actual filing date is the date of your application if you didn't establish a protective filing date by notifying Social Security on an earlier date that you planned to apply for disability benefits.)
But note that, to qualify for 12 months of retroactive benefits, you need to have been disabled for at least 17 months before your protective filing date. This is because SSDI benefits don't start until five months after your disability onset date (the date Social Security believes you first became disabled). So, to receive a full year of retroactive benefit payments, you'd need to have been disabled at least 17 months before your protective filing date (the five-month waiting period plus 12 months of retroactive benefit eligibility).
If you apply for SSI disability benefits, your protective filing date is the day you call Social Security or visit your local Social Security office and ask about filing for SSI benefits. There could be a couple of months between the time you first contact Social Security and the date you actually file your SSI disability application.
Social Security pays SSI back pay covering the time it takes the agency to process and approve your application for disability benefits. If your disability onset date is before your protective filing date, you can get back pay going back to your protective filing date (up to two months before your actual filing date). So, establishing a protective filing date before you apply for SSI means you might be able to receive a couple of extra months of back pay.
You can establish a protective filing date in a few different ways. And the requirements vary depending on whether you're filing an application for SSDI or SSI disability benefits.
For SSDI. To establish a protective filing date you must do all of the following:
If you began your application for disability online, also include the date you completed the Internet Claim Applicant Identification screen and received an Application Number.
For SSI. To establish a protective filing date for SSI, just call Social Security (800-772-1213) or go to your local field office and ask about SSI disability benefits. If you initiate the filing process online and get part way through the application, this can establish a protective filing date as well. But you must apply within two months of inquiring about benefits or starting the online application to keep your protective filing date.
You'll lose your protective filing date if you don't apply for Social Security disability benefits within the required timeframe:
And that protective filing date can extend the amount of time you have to file an SSDI claim and increase the amount of back pay you can get from both SSDI and SSI claims. (Learn about how back pay can affect your taxes.)
Updated November 29, 2022