How Is Social Security Back Pay Paid Out?

There are two types of Social Security benefits that are designed to help individuals who cannot work due to a disability: 

    • Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)— For people who worked before becoming disabled and have earned sufficient work credits
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)— For people with financial need who did not earn enough work credits to qualify for SSDI



In both cases, the application and approval process can be lengthy. Most claims for Social Security benefits are denied at least once before eventually being approved on appeal, and that could take months if not years. 

If you are awarded Social Security benefits, especially after a long appeals process, you may be entitled to SSDI or SSI back pay. Back pay is the money you would have collected if your claim had been approved right away. It is paid over and above your regular monthly benefit payment.

Back Pay Calculation

In general, Social Security disability back pay covers the time between the date of your application and the date you were approved for disability services. Exceptions to this include:

  • SSDI benefits — For SSDI benefits, there is a five-month waiting period. This means once you are approved for benefits, your back pay will be calculated to begin five months after you submitted your application.
  • Retroactive benefits — You may be able to receive additional retroactive benefits that go back to the date you became disabled, allowing you to recover the money you would have gotten if you had applied sooner. Your “disability onset date” is determined through the examination of your medical records.
  • 12-month maximum — SSDI will pay a maximum of 12 months of back pay, so for approvals that take an exceptionally long time, your back pay may not cover the entire period.
  • Additional benefits — Additional benefits you are eligible to receive during the back-pay period such as workers’ compensation or government pensions are part of the calculations and could reduce your social security back pay. 

Back Pay Distribution

Even after your disability claim is approved, you may not get all of your back pay right away. You should receive at least a portion of it within one month after receiving your first monthly benefit payment.

If you will be receiving only SSDI benefits, your back pay will probably be sent to you all at once as a single disbursement.

If you are approved to receive SSI or a combination of SSI and SSDI, your back pay will most likely be divided into three equal payments that are sent to you every six months. You may qualify to receive some of these funds sooner if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You are terminally ill with a life expectancy of 12 months or less
  • You no longer qualify for SSI and do not expect to qualify again in the next 12 months
  • You can demonstrate a need to use Social Security back pay for necessary expenses like medical treatment, food, or housing

A Social Security Disability Attorney Can Help

Navigating the intricacies of a Social Security claim can be challenging; an experienced disability attorney can help. The right attorney can help determine if you are qualified to get your back pay sooner. He or she can also review your medical files to help you establish a favorable onset date to recover the most back pay possible.