Can I receive back payments or retroactive benefits?

walletYes, a successful applicant for disability benefits may receive payments for time before the date the benefits are awarded. “Back payments” refers to payments for the period between the initial application and the award, and “retroactive payments” refers to payments for the period between when the applicant became disabled and the initial application.

In the case of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), an applicant may only receive back payments from the date of the application onward. Retroactive payments are not available for SSI.

In the case of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), an applicant may receive back payments from the date of the application onward, and may also be able to receive retroactive payments from the onset date of the disability onward. However, either amount may be affected by the five-month waiting period that applies to SSDI claims. If Social Security accepts an applicant’s alleged onset date and it becomes the established onset date, then back payments and/or retroactive payments will apply beginning five months after the onset date. In addition to this limitation, retroactive benefits will generally not be awarded for more than 12 months before the application date.

In the case of someone receiving SSDI only, the back payments and any retroactive payments may be paid in a lump sum. In the case of someone receiving SSI, or both SSDI and SSI, the back payments may be paid in installments six months apart.

Please Note: We have opened up comments on this article so that you may ask additional questions if you wish, and we will try to answer them as we are able. Any answers are for informational purposes only; they do not constitute legal advice and do not establish an attorney-client relationship.

69 Comments on Can I receive back payments or retroactive benefits?

  1. Jerry Dawson // April 6, 2016 at 6:38 pm // Reply

    I have applied for SSI benefits…are they required to pay me from the time of my application, or is it optional?

    • Social Security will pay SSI disability benefits from the disability “onset date,” which is the date that Social Security determines a person became disabled. If the onset date is found to be on or before the application date, the person will be paid from the application date onward.

  2. I called the local SSA office and was told my back pay was pending and the claimant request twice for the money to be released and still nothing in my account?

  3. Hi i received a letter stating my son will recieve 25000 from ssi retropaymant however they refuse to give the back money to us and their saying he needs proof of what he needs it for? Is that legal the letter i hot said it was for 3 years back money they old him i dont understand?

    • Once someone is found disabled under Social Security’s rules, SSI recipients also have to show that they are within the income and resource limits, whether they are an adult or a child. Also, if a back payment is a large amount, it may be paid in up to 3 installments. More information about SSI is available here.

  4. Hi, is the retroactive benefits differn’t than my backpay amount they told me I was getting? Sorry just confused. My backpay was 31,640 minus 6,000 for my lawyer. So I should be getting 26,640. I just recieved 8,303 in my account. So I guess my question is, should I be expecting the 25,640 still? My lawyer never. Mentioned retroactive pay, and now that he’s paid he won’t return my call

  5. i applied back in oct 2011, in az. i was denied by the judge and appealed her desision in 2014 after moving to ca. they denied my appeal but said if reaplied they would back pay me to 2014. so i droped my case and reaplied, oh and that letter was sent to me in 02/2015. well, they denied me at first so i appealed it. then as of 4/2016 was approved but my onset date they determaned was 05/2015. but my medical records actculy show my medical problems worsend in 2011 resulting me leaving work due to my medical isues. what im asking is can i apply for retroactive pay going back to 2014?. i only droped my other case becouse of them saying if i did and reaplied, they would go back to 2014, and ofcourse i fell for it. is there anything i can do?

    • Yes, it is possible to appeal the decision about your onset date. The decision letter should state that you have the right to appeal within 65 days of the date on the notice. For SSDI, it is possible to get retroactive benefits going back to 12 months before the application date, depending on the onset date.

  6. I took a break from working in 2000. I became disabled in 2001 and did not/could not return to work. I didn’t know I could apply for disability funds. At 62 I started collecting SS. I’m now 63 and still disabled. Can I still apply for retro or back pay and also receive benefits now at the age 65 rate? I appreciate your consideration.

    • Yes, this is possible. You can apply for disability benefits and claim the earliest onset date you can to maximize your benefits. If you are found disabled then your benefits would increase. How much they increase depends on when the onset date of your disability is finally established to be. See this article for more information.

  7. Bernice Miller- Turner // July 12, 2016 at 1:51 am // Reply

    I was told by social security my payments were incorrect. They gave me the additional payment last month ,for survival benefitsv. Will they pay all the under payment ?

  8. ive been receiving ssi since I was twenty juat found out I was suppose to recieve adult benefits from my fathers social security will I receive back pay or retroactive payments

    • Yes, when applying for disabled adult child benefits, it is possible to receive retroactive benefits. If the wage-earner (parent) is disabled, then 12 months of retroactive payments are possible. If the wage-earner is deceased or retired, then 6 months of retroactive payments are possible. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.621(a).

  9. Hello, I started my case in may 2012, SSDI Only denied 2014, ac appeal/remand 2014-2016 new court issue date April 27, 2016, fully favorable day after court date but received notice of decision dated June 6,2016 received, notice of award dated July 31, 2016 received august 1, 2016 stating i will get first payment 8/17/16 and amounts of monthly and back pay as well as medicare info. Lawyer fee has been deducted and is being process, 8/6/16 received medicare card with new insurance card. when do u think i will receive back pay I am in Washington State. I also have a requested for assistance from my senators office because i have gotten told 3-6 weeks, 4-8 weeks, 3 months after first pay and the grand finale 6 months. i am very much in need of all my funds to take care of my 2 young kids. When do you think i will receive my back pay and will my first payment come on actual pay day which is 3rd wed of month?

    • Your lawyer should answer these questions for you.

      Regarding your monthly payments, your award letter should state the month your benefits will begin. Payment is made on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th Wednesday of the month depending on your birthdate. See this schedule (pdf) for more information. It sounds like you know your payday is the 3rd Wednesday, so yes, that is when payment will be made.

      As for your back pay, I’m afraid that varies. There may be complicating factors, such as other benefits that a person may have received. Your lawyer should be able to help, especially since your lawyer’s fee is tied to your back pay.

  10. I applied for SSD on 1/14.Although my onset of my ailment started 4/13.I was told by my lawyer my claim is now on the fast track and I should have a hearing as soon as this fall It will either just go to a special board and they can approve it without going in front of a judge.Is this correct?

    • If you are represented by an attorney, you should rely on your attorney for information about your case. However, in general terms, yes, it is possible to apply for an On the Record Request, which is a way for strong cases to get approved without having to wait for a hearing. The decision still comes from the judge though.

  11. my husband was fully awarded and determined disabled on September, 2015. He has a protective filing date of February ,2014. We filed our disability on September 2013 but like what I said he was declared disabled on September 2015, however he got approved on July 22, 2015. Is my husband entitled for any retroactive payment aside from back pay?

    • Generally speaking, you’re entitled to SSDI benefits from your established onset date forward (but no more than 12 months of benefits from before your application date).

  12. I had a hearing with ALJ on June 6,2016 after a Federal judge remanded my claim back to the ODAR in Indianapolis. I was awarded a bench decision at that time. On June 17,2016 I received my Fully Favorable letter from the judge. Towards the end of June I spoke to my local SSA office and I was told that the payment processing center began working on my claim on June 14th. – Okay, Fast forward to August 12,2016…. I spoke to the local SSA office again and they said that my claim is now in pending status at the payment processing center in Maryland. What does that mean exactly?? I have officially reached the sixty day mark TODAY. I’m trying to be patient. However, I have an onset date of 2/12/2010 so my patience is running very thin. I have filed appeal after appeal for over six years now. *My claim is SSDI only with no workers compensation, no SSI offsets, no unemployment , etc.

    * Also, will my lawyer receive 25% of my back pay or $6,000 total?
    Thank you in advance!!!
    #RAwreckslivestooexhausted2Btired

    • Hang in there, you’re almost there.

      Unfortunately, while Social Security is supposed to process your payment in 60 days, they do not always meet that deadline. You can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 and tell them it has been more than 60 days. Ask the representative to send a message through their internal system to the payment processing center asking why you have not been paid.

      The maximum fee that an attorney can receive as a direct payment from Social Security is 25 percent of your back pay, up to a maximum of $6,000. So if 25 percent of your back pay is more than $6,000, the attorney still gets $6,000 only.

  13. Thank you for the quick response! Can you please clarify what “pending status” actually means? I was told a few weeks ago that my claim was “being reviewed.” I believe the SSA office also used the term “being processed” at one time as well. I wasn’t sure if “pending” was a final step before my back pay is actually released….
    * I’m happy to hear that $6,000 is the max that my lawyer will receive! Don’t get me wrong, he did a fantastic job and deserves every penny.

    Thank you again!
    Shannon

    • Honestly, I think they use those different terms interchangeably, so they don’t mean much more than “we’re still working on it.” Sorry I don’t have more information for you.

  14. Hi Brendan,
    I finally spoke to someone directly at the payment processing center in MD. I found out that my claim was received on June 23rd and the sixty days is this Monday. She said that they don’t like to go beyond sixty days. My question to you is…. Do they ever go beyond sixty days? I don’t know why I didn’t ask her that. I think I was in shock that I finally got an answer. I’ve called several times a day for weeks.

    Thank you!!!

    • As she said, they “don’t like to” go beyond 60 days, but it can happen. You have been approved, so you are entitled to your benefits. Just stay in touch with them and make sure the processing continues.

  15. I received a check for $54,000, to cover errors made by SS for my adult stepdaughter’s SS disability pay. They went back 20 years, but they should have paid back to 1977, when her father retired, He then died in 1999 and that’s the year they paid back to. I say they owe us another 20 years back to 1977. They were figuring it from her mother’s income which was far less than her father’s. I’m filing an appeal. What should I believe?

    • It’s hard to say without knowing all the details of the case, but if you feel they are in the wrong, then you should pursue your appeal. Generally speaking, a disabled adult child may be entitled to benefits if the parent is receiving retirement or disability benefits, not only if the parent is deceased.

  16. Charles Grayer // September 14, 2016 at 1:40 am // Reply

    Hi there! At the end of your article, you mentioned that “retroactive benefits will generally not be awarded for more than 12 months before the application date.” Are there any situations in which one can receive more than 12 months worth of retroactive benefits? And if so, what would someone need to do in order for this to happen?

    Thank you in advance for your help!

    • It could happen in special circumstances, for example if a previous case was denied and not appealed, therefore becoming a final decision, but then a judge at a later date found good cause to reopen the earlier case.

  17. My mother is 72 y/o now and I’m not aware that she didn’t apply for social security retirement because somebody told her that if she delay applying for SS retirement then she will get more in the end. She just told me last week to help her apply for SS retirement because her savings is almost gone. My question is, can she she still get back pay of the 2 years that she lost from SS retirement? Because from what I know is that she should have applied when she was 70 y/o which is the maximum age for retirement. So it’s like she lost 2 years of her retirement.

  18. Orianna Sanders // September 20, 2016 at 6:42 pm // Reply

    I was disabled 2006.
    Father died 2014.
    Filed for benefits 2016.
    Still waiting to be approved?
    Will I recieve back pay from 2006

  19. Orianna Sanders // September 20, 2016 at 6:43 pm // Reply

    My dad also recieved benefits

  20. I had a phone interview for my daughter to recieve benefits from her dad ssdi and the lady said that she would get three years retro pay the appt was on the august 30 2106 she recieved her first monthly payment when should she recieve her back pay

  21. Catherine Eady // October 4, 2016 at 8:28 pm // Reply

    K my question is…
    I got approved for SSI & she told me things would take 7/10 business days, so I’m wait’n but I just got a letter say’n that they were go’n to pay the Hillsborough County Health Insurance 1st then pay my lawyer & if anything was left over then they’d send it to me…
    I do remember sign’n a reimbursement form for the Insurance I was just wonder’n if maybe u could tell me anything about it cause I’m not to sure about it,
    The hubby tried to see what he could find & it said sum thing to do with only go’n back 12 months,
    Anyhow if u could just give me ur input that’d be great,
    K Thkz…✌

    • Yes, it is my understanding that when Hillsborough County Health Care services are provided to a patient, pending their approval for SSI and Medicaid, then Hillsborough County will be reimbursed out of their back pay. Sorry I don’t have any more details than that for you.

  22. Catherine Caudle // October 6, 2016 at 10:12 pm // Reply

    Received notice of fully favorable decision after a federal court remand was ordered. The payment center worked on the case for almost 90 days and got me in pay only the underpayment is just sitting around on the record. The local field office paid my daughter out all her retro and here I sit waiting and waiting. How long is too long?

    • I understand that it is frustrating. Social Security is administratively underfunded, and delays are common. I think your best strategy is to keep in touch with the office and the representative working on your case and keep asking them for updates.

  23. In 2015 first five months received unemployment . In the middle of July 2015 started working last day of work was Jan 1 2016 for 2015 earned $7440 . I applied for ssi/ ssd may 24 2016 . I understand back pay for ssi, ssd and five month waiting . Will I receive retroactive pay? had my hearing last week dire need claim.

    • It depends on when your established onset date is. If found disabled and eligible for both SSDI and SSI, then SSDI would begin five months after the established onset date and SSI would begin on the application date (assuming the established onset date is before or on the application date).

  24. Hi, I am 58 yrs old and on SSDI, and SSI. I receive roughly just over $700. a month. Since getting disabled many years ago, I have had several heart attacks, Copd stage 6 and Gerd. Is it possible to get increase in monthly amount for Copd and Heart attacks? I am on Medicare/Medicaid. When I first started getting SSDI I received $900, then got a letter stating it was a mistake, and now I’m down to just over $700.

  25. My husband passed December 28th 2016 of stage 4 renal cell carcinoma cancer . He applied for social security disability benefits in June & was deemed disabled May 06 2016 by social security administration. My question to you is did he qualify for retroactive benefits & if so how do I receive them? His condition also falls under the compassionate allowance benefits if im not mistaken right?

    • I am sorry for your loss. Generally speaking, someone who is found disabled will receive benefits from the Established Onset Date (EOD) forward. The EOD is the date that Social Security determines the person became disabled. For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, if you became disabled before you applied, you can receive retroactive benefits for up to one year before the application date. It sounds like you are saying that your husband was found disabled 7 months before he passed away, so he should have received his retroactive benefits at that time. With the condition you describe, he would have qualified for a compassionate allowance, which means that the decision to grant benefits is made quicker than usual.

      Upon death, the individual’s disability benefits stop, but you may be eligible for surviving spouse benefits if you are age 60 or older, or if you are age 50 and older and disabled. If that is the case, I suggest contacting Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to apply. There is also a special lump-sum death benefit of $255.

  26. My disease began in 1990. I worked for nine years…and used sumatriptan to treat them and maintain employment. In 1999 i had a baby and could not use the medication while breast feeding…and for the next 9 years I was either nursing or pregnant…..I had two heart attacks in 2008 from using sumatriptan and this lost the most effective migraine treatments. It’s 2017….I’ve been disabled and with no! Viable solution since 1999. Can I apply now for benefits for a disease that left me unable to work in1999? Will I receive retroactive pay?

    • You cannot receive more than one year’s worth of retroactive payments (from before the application date) in any case. However, it is possible to claim a disability onset date before that, and in a case like this that may be necessary, because if you have not worked enough in recent years then your “date last insured” (DLI) would be in the past, and to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) you would have to prove you were disabled before the DLI. This may be possible, but it is more difficult to prove a disability that far in the past.

      Another alternative is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you meet the income and resource limits, then if you were found to be disabled now, you could receive SSI benefits, and your DLI would not matter.

  27. I applied in 2011 and was denied I put AOD as jan 2010. I reapplied in 2014 and was just approved at the hearing level and judge agreed EOD as of jan 2010. What should I expect my retro pay begin date to be?

    • Generally speaking, for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, retroactive pay is available for 12 months before the application date, at the most. In your case, assuming the 2011 decision was final and then you started a new application in 2014, then you may be able to receive retroactive pay for 12 months before the 2014 application date (as well as your back pay between 2014 and now).

  28. I applied for my son with learning disabilities on 12/2/16 he was approved on 4/18/17 is he entitled to retroactive payment

  29. I became unable to work in January of 2015 and filed for disability. I had trouble finding an AMA doctor that could find my diagnosis of lymes disease which I had became very sick with and unable to work. However I had a naturpathic doctor test me and I was positive. This was 3- 12- 2015 but SSA wouldn’t accept this positive test. They told me I didn’t have enough proof then today may 1st 2017 I opened a letter saying that they found my condition to be severe and that I am disabled but didn’t know when I would get any money and that I would not be getting any back pay or retroactive pay because they had determined that I was disabled starting last week. Can I fight for the backpack if I get even more evidence? I did not choose a SSA attorney. In 1993 I was on ssi for the same condition but the attorney offered me no help at all so this time I opted out and the Human ARC is supposedly helping me.

    • Yes, you have the right to appeal the decision about your established onset date. However, you should keep in mind that when Social Security reviews that decision, they also review your whole claim, and it is possible they would decide you are not disabled at all. Whether it’s a good idea to appeal an onset date depends on the facts of the individual case. You may wish to consult with an attorney in your local area who can advise you regarding your case. You can call the NOSSCR referral line at 1-800-431-2804 to be put in touch with a local attorney. (Or if you are in the Tampa Bay area, feel free to call me.)

  30. Hello.I was approved for ssi in march 2017 ,still waiting for payments .My onset date start from July 2014 .If I return to work and try to work as a full time ,will SSA cancel my retro benefits and ssi payments?

    • I recommend contacting Social Security to find out the status of your benefits. If you have been approved, SSI payments should be processed quickly. If you can, I would wait on trying to go back to work until after you receive your back pay and at least one month of benefits. Once your benefits are established, you can work, but your SSI benefit amount would be reduced because of the extra income, and if your countable income is more than the SSI benefit amount, you would no longer receive benefits. The SSI program does have work incentives that can permit you to earn money while on SSI and still get benefits, under certain circumstances.

  31. Do you qualify for retroactive payments if you worked after EOD?

    • Generally, if there is an established onset date (EOD), then retroactive payments would apply. Working above the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level ($1,170 per month in 2017) may cause Social Security to establish the onset date as after that period of work, unless the work can be characterized as an unsuccessful work attempt. If the EOD is already set, then a period of work may count as a trial work period, enabling the person to continue receiving benefits for a limited time.

  32. Pamela Taylor // May 17, 2017 at 11:15 pm // Reply

    I too am somewhat confused. I appeared before ALJ for hearing. My filing date was July 2015. My AOD was July 2013. I was awarded a fully favorable decision and at the end of the legal paperwork he wrote my disability effective as of July 2013. What effect if any does that have on any retroactive/back pay?
    Thank you so much for any response​.
    Pam

    • The fact that the judge agreed with your alleged onset date (AOD), making it your established onset date (EOD), means that you can receive the maximum retroactive and/or back payments. In the case of Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, the maximum you can receive in retroactive payments is for up to one year before your application date. In the case of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, back payments are payable only from the application date forward.

  33. Hi I filled for disability in 2014 and was denied I appealed it two times still denied on the last denial they said I had to take them to court or reapply. Two months later I replied in January now in May they approved me can i get retroactive pay back

    • If you started over with a new application, then the previous decision is final as to whether you were disabled then. So you can only get retroactive or back pay based on the onset date attached to this new application.

  34. hi, I was on ssi for 14 years, I went into a facility for over a year so when I got out I was told I had to reapply, I did. I was denied and than denied with the judge after waiting over 2 years. I was told by someone I could appeal it and wait another 14 to 24 months or try my chances at reapplying. I don’t have any income at all so I reapplied 2 weeks after I was denied by judge. now I’m approved for the same exact medical reason that I was denied for. is there any possible way I can get retro pay for the years I was waiting. thank you.

    • Unfortunately, by starting a new application, you are accepting that the denial of the first claim is a final decision. That is the choice you were faced with: appeal the judge’s decision to the Appeals Council and wait over a year but get the retroactive pay if you win, or start over with a new application and give up the retroactive pay, but maybe have a better chance of winning.

      Just because you gave up the retroactive pay does not mean you made the wrong choice. Having the approved disability going forward is a big victory. Sometimes it is hard to win at the Appeals Council, because you have to show that the judge made an error, and the first judge may very well have denied you within their proper discretion. Sometimes on a new application, you enter a new age category, or your condition got worse, combined with a more sympathetic decision maker.

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