If you are currently disabled and in need of financial assistance, you may qualify for a monthly benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The two most common disability programs are Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Of the two, SSDI typically pays out more to its beneficiaries per month. SSDI benefits provide cash payments to over 10 million Americans, including payments to spouses and children. If you are over the age of 18, are unable to work due to your disability, and expect your disability to last longer than 12 months or end in death, you can apply for SSDI. You will need to provide personal information, income and financial information, medical documentation about your long-term disability, and complete a medical release form.

The entire process can be completed online, but getting approval for Social Security benefits can take several months from the date of application. Some applicants may find it takes over a year to secure benefits, especially if you’ve appealed a decision and have had to meet with an administrative law judge to have your claim reviewed.

The lengthy time frame leaves many in a state of limbo waiting for their request to be approved. Because of this, the SSA has implemented SSDI Back Pay which can make up for this lag time between applying and gaining approval.

In short, the back pay program accounts for any disability claim that takes longer than normal to complete. The SSA provides reimbursement to cover the months that are eligible for coverage. However, the program doesn’t automatically award money for any amount of time spent waiting. It’s important to understand the specifics about who can receive back pay, how much you can expect, and under what circumstances you will get it.

SSDI Back Pay FAQs

Am I eligible for SSDI back pay?

It’s common for an SSDI application to take several months to be processed. However, just because you have to wait to start collecting a benefit does not automatically mean you are eligible for backpay. There is a five-month waiting period built into the application process that’s mandatory for anyone who is approved, meaning you won’t start getting payments until the sixth month after you applied. This is known as your established onset date (EOD). If your application takes longer than five months to process, then you will be eligible to start receiving benefits (or be owed benefits) through the back pay program.

This precaution was implemented to ensure only those with true long-term disabilities are accessing the program. In the eyes of the SSA, your EOD is the date your disability is assumed to have begun and unless you appeal to have it changed, they will use the date that you first applied as your EOD. If your actual disability onset date occurred before your application date, you can hire a disability lawyer to ask the SSA to revise your EOD. You might be eligible for a retroactive payment to cover the time between your actual EOD and the date you applied for SSDI.

How is SSDI back pay calculated?

All SSDI back pay payments are determined using your EOD, which is why it may benefit you to establish an earlier date if you’ve been disabled long before filing a claim. The SSA will then use the date your claim was approved to calculate any back pay you are due. For example, if you applied on June 1, 2021, but your claim wasn’t approved until February 1, 2022, there would be nine months between your EOD and the date you are approved. You would then take this number and subtract the standard five-month waiting period (9 – 5 = 4), and you would be owed four months back pay.

When do I start earning back pay?

Back pay starts accumulating after you’ve passed the five-month waiting period after your application was received. Keep in mind that the SSA considers your application date the same as your EOD unless you petition to have it changed.

How much back pay will I get?

The actual dollar amount of back pay will vary from person to person and will depend upon how much your monthly benefit is. Once you are approved, the SSA will send you an award letter telling you how much your monthly payment will be after they’ve looked at your current resources and the severity of your disability. The average SSDI benefit is $1,358 a month, but payments can range from $100 to $3,345. The vast majority of recipients received less than $2,000 a month. Once the SSA has calculated your monthly benefit, they will use this number to reimburse you for your back pay. Certain factors like income you are already receiving or workers’ compensation will affect your total SSD benefit.

The other factor that could affect your back pay disability payment is whether you used a personal advocate or attorney to represent your claim. The SSA has mandated caps on how much an advocate or Social Security disability lawyer can charge for their services and this is usually $6,000 or 25% of your backpay. The SSA will pay your representative directly from your back pay and then you will be awarded the remaining amount.

Do I have to pay taxes on SSDI back pay?

There are tax considerations to take into account when receiving back pay. The SSA typically sends back pay as one lump sum payment, so if you are owed several months of back pay you may be looking at a check of several thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars to cover past-due benefits.

Many recipients are rightly concerned that getting such a large windfall in one year will require them to pay extra taxes that they weren’t expecting. To address this, the SSA allows you to allocate these payments to the year that you would have received them had your claim been approved earlier in a process called “lump-sum election.” They will also provide a form for you (SSA-1099) that will state how much of your past-due benefit should belong in each tax year and this can help spread out the tax burden.

It’s worth noting that many people who rely on disability payments do not have an additional substantial source of income and will therefore not be required to pay taxes on much of their money anyway. For example, an individual who earns less than $25,000 a year in disability and income does not have to pay any taxes on the backpay.

How long does it take to receive SSDI back pay?

The length of time it takes to get retroactive pay for SSDI benefits varies, but most recipients receive their first check within two months after being approved for compensation. In some cases, the SSA may request an additional review of a claimant’s income and assets to ensure that they’re still eligible, and this process can slow down payments.

In general, if you are only owed a small amount of back pay, you can expect to get your payment sooner. Larger amounts may take more time since there is more red tape involved. In some cases, you can contact the SSA and explain why you need your back pay faster than they have scheduled it, though they will only allow this in special circumstances and you will need to provide ample evidence to support your request.

Additionally, if you’ve omitted any information for your application or if the SSA needs more evidence to either confirm your disability or your EOD, this could delay your SSDI payment. The best way to prevent this is by ensuring your application is complete from the beginning. The SSA provides a checklist on their application website you can use before you submit your claim to make sure you are not missing anything. Because most back pay payments are made through direct deposit, it’s a good idea to set up a bank account ahead of time so you don’t run into any obstacles after you’ve been approved.

How do I track my SSDI back pay?

If you have yet to receive a response in the mail, you can always track the status of your application online through your “my Social Security” account or by calling 1-800-772-1213. Online tracking is the most efficient way to monitor each stage of the application and back pay process, but note that the login process requires two-factor identification. This means that you will need access to a cell phone or email address during the login process to verify your identity.

How long does it take to get disability retroactive pay from Social Security?

The length of time it takes to get retroactive pay for SSDI benefits varies, but most recipients receive their first check within two months after being approved for compensation. In some cases, the SSA may request an additional review of a claimant’s income and assets to ensure that they’re still eligible, and this process can slow down payments.

If you receive any requests for information from the SSA while awaiting your retroactive payments for SSDI, respond as quickly as possible with up-to-date information to speed up the process.

Is back pay the same as retroactive pay?

SSDI back pay is not the same thing as retroactive pay, though the two are commonly mistaken for each other. During the process of applying for Social Security disability, you might hear two terms that sound similar: back pay and retroactive pay. Both types of pay give recipients money owed to them from before they began receiving their compensation. However, they’re used for different purposes.

Social Security disability back pay is only given to recipients dated back to the date they first applied for benefits or the date they became eligible for benefits after applying. This payment compensates recipients for the usually long processing time for Social Security disability claims.

In contrast, retroactive pay is for recipients who may have been eligible for disability benefits even before they applied. Social Security will pay recipients retroactive pay for up to one year prior to the date they applied if the Social Security Administration finds that they were eligible to receive benefits at that time. These retroactive benefits can be helpful to those who have been unable to work for a long period due to their disability.

To receive retroactive pay, a recipient would need to be considered disabled for 17 months prior to applying for Social Security disability benefits, as the SSA requires applicants to wait five months from the onset of their disability before it will begin paying benefits.

There are minimal exemptions to this rule. One is that people who are on SSDI again after previously receiving the benefits may not need to complete the five-month waiting period as part of their retroactive pay. Additionally, children of a disabled person who is eligible for SSDI benefits are exempt from the waiting period.

SSDI recipients who would have otherwise been eligible for retroactive benefits may not receive compensation if they have offsets or withholdings from their benefits.

 Since retroactive pay usually covers a longer period than back pay, the payments are typically made in three installments. Like back pay, you won’t start receiving your retroactive payments until after the mandatory five-month waiting period after your SSDI claim was approved. It is worth noting that retroactive payments only apply to SSDI, not SSI.

It’s possible to receive both back pay and retroactive benefits, but they will be separate payments.

Retroactive pay is intended to help those who did not or could not apply for Social Security disability benefits when they first became disabled. These disability benefits can cover up to one year from the onset of your disability to the time you applied for SSDI.

Can I Get Back Pay and Retroactive Pay At the Same Time?

Yes, some recipients may be eligible for SSDI back pay and retroactive pay at the same time, but they will be separate payments. Both payments are made by the SSA to cover a period before your application is approved, but they are calculated differently. Back pay covers the time between your application date and your approval date, while retroactive pay covers the time between your disability onset date and your application date. This typically happens when the approval process for SSDI takes a long time, possibly because an individual is having a difficult time gathering enough evidence to prove their disability or the date the disability began.

Here is an example:

Let’s say that you began feeling ill on April 1st. The illness became severe enough over the next couple of weeks that you were unable to work beginning on April 15th. However, after several doctor’s visits, exams, and tests, you finally receive a diagnosis on December 15th. This whole time, you were unable to work.

On December 30th, you apply for SSDI benefits. The SSA reviews your claim and determines that your alleged onset date (AOD) is April 15th, since that was the date you became unable to work. The five-month waiting period makes you eligible for SSDI benefits on October 15th. You’ll also become eligible for retroactive pay from October 15th through December 30th, the date you applied.

Suppose the SSA does not approve your claim until May 1st of the following year after you applied. Once found eligible, the SSA will pay you retroactive payments and the back pay you were eligible for from December 30th to May 1st.

How do I receive my back pay?

You will need a bank account to receive back pay, so this should be set up after you apply for benefits to ensure there’s no delay. Back pay is usually only paid by direct deposit, though you may be able to get a check.

You may also elect to have a representative payee handle your disability benefit payment. This is commonly a family member or a caregiver, but it can also be an organization that the SSA assigns to someone determined to be unable to handle their own SSDI benefits. The representative will then be responsible for using these funds for your needs and is required to keep receipts and records of their spending and submit an annual report to the SSA to ensure the funds are being spent correctly.

Does the SSA Owe You Disability Back Pay?

Social Security insurance provides an invaluable safety net to disabled Americans across the country who are no longer able to work and earn income. The sheer volume of applications the SSA must process can often mean that people are waiting several months or over a year to receive their approval. This issue is exacerbated when you factor in those who choose to appeal a denial and schedule a disability hearing.

Even though you may have to wait a long time to start receiving disability benefits, it can relieve some of the stress knowing you may be eligible for back pay. Back pay covers any additional time it takes to process your application – minus the mandatory five-month waiting period – and pays you for those months you should have been receiving a payment.