A protective filing date means different things depending on whether the disability applicant is approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To understand protective filing dates, it helps to understand a bit about eligibility for Social Security disability.
SSDI is available to people who have worked for employers who paid taxes to Social Security. SSDI works similarly to homeowners or renters insurance in the sense that premiums are paid (in the form of taxes) to insure against future disability. Just like homeowner's insurance, if the premium is not paid, coverage ends. Oftentimes people with a disability quit working before they have been approved for disability benefits. This means that that their SSDI "premium" is no longer being paid by an employer and that their SSDI coverage will eventually run out. The date the SSDI eligibility ends is called the "date last insured" (DLI). If you apply for disability after your DLI, you will be denied because you are no longer covered by your SSDI "policy." (For more information on the dates you are covered, see our article on SSDI's date last insured.)
SSI is a federal income supplement for disabled people who don't have a qualifying work history. Unlike SSDI, SSI isn't insurance. This means that as long as you can prove you are disabled and that you meet the income and asset requirements, you can receive SSI.
The SSA allows for what it called a "protective filing date." A protective filing date marks the time when a disability applicant made a written statement of his or her intent to file for SSDI. If an applicant initiates the filing process online and gets part way through the application, this can help establish a protective filing date as well.
A protective filing date can make an applicant's "insurance" last longer. If an applicant establishes a protective filing date before the applicant's date last insured (DLI) has passed, the applicant will still be eligible for SSDI even if he or she completes the application after his or her DLI has passed.
Example 1. John worked for Acme Company for 10 years before he stopped working in 2010 due to a back injury. His DLI was September 1, 2015, but John wrote to the SSA on June 1, 2015, advising the agency that he intended to file for SSDI. June 1, 2015, became his protective filing date. John eventually filed for disability on October 1, 2015, after his DLI had passed; however, because his protective filing date was before his DLI, he was still eligible for SSDI.
Example 2. Mary also worked for Acme Company for 10 years until she had to stop due to a heart condition. Her DLI was on September 1, 2015. However, she did not contact the SSA about applying for disability until October 1, 2015. Because Mary did not notify the SSA about her intent to file, nor did she file a disability application before her DLI, she is not eligible for SSDI.
While applicants who can prove their disability started before the DLI passed can still be eligible for benefits, proving this can be difficult. You can learn more about this in our article on DLI and disability onset dates.
If you are approved for SSDI, you can receive up to a full year of retroactive benefits based on your protective filing date. (Your filing date is the date of your application if you didn't notify the SSA at an earlier point that you would be applying for disability benefits.)
But, since SSDI benefits do not start until five months after the SSA determines you became disabled, and because the SSA will only award retroactive benefits for the 12 months prior to your protective filing date, you need to have been disabled at least 17 months prior to your protective filing date (five-month waiting period plus 12 months retroactive benefit eligibility) to receive a full year of retroactive benefit payments.
Example. John's protective filing date was January 1, 2015. He applied for disability benefits on April 1, 2015. He was approved for benefits in July 2015, and the SSA determined that he became disabled on October 1, 2013. John is entitled to back benefits starting March 1, 2014, five months after his disabliity onset date (because of the five-month waiting period). John will receive retroactive benefits for the dates March 1, 2014, to January 1, 2015 (his protective filing date). He will also receive back payments for the period from his protective filing date (January 1, 2015) to the date he was approved, in July 2015.
For more information on these calculations, see our article on the difference between back pay and retroactive payments.
An SSI applicant is given a protective filing date when he or she calls the SSA or visits a Social Security office and asks about applying for disability benefits.
Sometimes there are a few months between the first contact with the SSA and the actual filing of the disability application. The SSI applicant can receive back pay to the protective filing date (up to two months earlier than the filing date) as long as the SSA determines the person was disabled at the time of the protective filing date. This means that the SSI recipient may be able to receive back payments for a couple of extra months with a protective filing date that's earlier than the actual filing date.
Example. Barbara called the SSA to discuss disability benefits on January 1, 2014. She then visited a SSA office and filed for disability benefits on March 31, 2014. Barbara did not qualify for SSDI due to a lack of work credits, but she met the asset and income requirements for SSI. Barbara's protective filing date was January 1, 2014. On January 1, 2016, the SSA finally approved Barbara's disabliity benefits, finding that Barbara became disabled on January 1, 2013. Barbara can receive back pay from the month following her protective filing date (February 1, 2014) to the date she was approved for benefits (January 1, 2016).
Remember, there is no five-month waiting period for SSI benefits. Benefits begin the month after the application date (or a month after the protective filing date).
SSDI. For SSDI, to establish a protective filing date you must:
SSI. To establish a protective filing date for SSI, you need only to call the SSA or go to a field office to inquire about SSI. If you initiate the filing process online and get part way through the application, this can establish a protective filing date as well. However, you must apply within two months of inquiring about benefits or starting the online application to keep your protective filing date.
There is no downside to getting a protective filing date, but remember, you must apply for disability benefits within the required timeframe (six months for SSDI and two months for SSI) or you will lose your protective filing date.