Simply stated, back pay in Social Security Disability is what it sounds like—a lump sum of money you are owed to cover a period in which you were medically qualified for disability benefits but had not yet been approved to collect them.
The Social Security Disability lawyers here at Nash Disability Law hear the question “How much back pay?” often. While simple in concept, how much you will get in back pay can quickly get complicated (like most things associated with the Social Security system).
How much back pay you might receive in a successful claim for disability benefits depends on three factors: your application date, the date Social Security finally agrees you became unable to work, and whether you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Under Social Security rules for SSI (a program for aged, blind, and people with disabilities who have little or no income), if you are approved, you are paid from the first month after you applied. This is if, and only if, Social Security found you had a qualifying impairment as of your SSI application date. It typically takes Social Security several months to decide a case, thus the first few months of payments will, in all likelihood, be paid in a back payment.
Typically SSI payments are lower than SSDI. Benefit amounts are calculated based on what is referred to as the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), which is adjusted annually. In 2023, if you have no other source of income at all, the maximum benefit is $914 monthly for a single person ($1,371 for a married couple). But this is the highest possible amount; the average benefit payment individuals actually receive in 2023 is $675.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay SSI beneficiaries only three months of SSI benefits at once in their first retroactive payment. If the SSI beneficiary is owed more than that, SSA will usually pay the beneficiary in two or three installments, six months apart, unless the person can prove they need the money for necessities.
For SSDI, the important date also involves the date Social Security finds you first had a disability according to their rules. SSDI payments begin five full months after the date Social Security agrees that you met the disability standard, but no further back than 12 months prior to the date you filed your application.
Therefore, it is very important to promptly file an application when you develop a work-stopping disability so that you do not lose out on months of benefits.
When you apply for disability benefits, you will be asked on the forms for the date you became unable to work. This is known as the alleged onset date (AOD).
This is often the date you stopped working, but can also be based on a medical event. When you are successful in making your case for disability help and you are awarded benefits, you will be given an established onset date (EOD), which may be the same or different from the AOD.
This is the date Social Security agrees you met the standard for getting disability benefits. It is set either by a Social Security administrative law judge or an SSA Disability Determination Services adjudicator.
The evidence presented in your case will be the basis for deciding your established onset date. In other words, your doctor’s reports and notes, medical tests, your work history, your testimony (if there is a hearing) and the application you filled out in applying for disability benefits will determine how far back your benefits will extend.
There is a limit to the overall back pay you can receive—you can never receive more than one year of back pay from before your application date. When you are approved for SSDI, you will receive the back pay as one lump-sum payment. (For more on back pay read our blog post Disability Back Pay: How It Works.)
In 2023, the maximum amount you can earn from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is $3,627 per month, but few disability applicants get this much. The 2023 average monthly benefit is $1,483. Your benefit amount depends solely on how much and how recently you’ve paid into Social Security.
You can see that when it comes to disability payments, there are complex issues that require the expertise of people who understand the mechanics of the SSA’s often log-jammed system, complex payment process, and the SSA people involved.
For expert guidance and vigorous legal representation, turn to the experienced Chicago disability attorneys at Nash Disability Law. Contact us for a free evaluation of your specific situation.