"If I am approved, how much Social Security Disability back pay will I get?"

Learn how to count the months of Social Security Disability back pay you can receive and to figure your potential back pay.

Maximum Number of Back-Pay Months Before Application

If you are approved, you can receive up to twelve months of Social Security Disability back pay for months prior to your date of application. These months are called retroactive pay months. Back pay includes retroactive pay months plus months between your application and when monthly benefits start.

Counting Social Security Disability Back-Pay Months

When you are trying to figure how many months of back pay you will receive, count up the number of full calendar months between when your disability began as established by the Social Security Administration and when you expect your first check. Then subtract five months. You have to subtract five months because Social Security does not pay the first five full calendar months of disability. Another thing to keep in mind is that Social Security pays for the prior month, not for the month in which you receive the payment. For example, if you expect to receive your back pay in April, it will include benefits only through March.

Secrets to Counting Back-Pay Months

Here are a couple more tips for counting months of back pay. The first is to remember that only full calendar months count; so if you became disabled in the middle of the month, your month of disability does not count as one of the five unpaid months. The second tip is an exception to the first rule. If you become disabled on the first or second day of a calendar month, Social Security will count the month you became disabled as month number one of the five-month unpaid waiting period. This means that, when you are counting up months of disability prior to your application, you can include the month you became disabled in the count.

Calculating the Amount of Social Security Disability Back Pay

The total amount of your Social Security back pay is the number of full calendar months between when you became disabled and the month in which you expect to receive your first check, minus five months, multiplied times the amount of your expected monthly Social Security disability payment. Remember to count your month of disability if you became disabled on the first or second day of the month.

If there has been a cost-of-living increase during your back pay period, the actual total of your Social Security Disability back pay will be a little less than estimated because not all months will be paid at the current rate.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Back Pay

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) back pay starts with the month after the month of application or the month after the month in which you became disabled as established by Social Security, whichever is later and does not include any retroactive pay for months before application. Although it is easy enough to figure SSI back pay months, trying to calculate the amount of SSI back pay will result in a quite unreliable estimate because SSI payments are calculated month by month based on your income and assets in each month.

How long after receiving my first monthly check, will I get my Social Security Disability back pay?

How soon you begin to receive your Social Security Disability benefits varies depending on several factors. Sometimes a person’s first payment will include all back pay through the prior calendar month and will then be followed by regular monthly benefits. More often Social Security has to do additional calculations and authorizations before back benefits can be released so the Administration will start your regular monthly benefits before releasing your Social Security Disability back pay.

Delays in Back Pay Due to Other Benefits

The most common reason for a lapse of time between your getting your first monthly benefit, if it comes first, and getting your disability back pay is that the Social Security Administration needs to calculate your Social Security disability benefit considering other benefits you were eligible to receive in the back pay period, such as workers compensation, certain government pensions or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

If you are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and you received your SSI back pay before your Social Security back pay, your Social Security back pay must be reduced by the amount of SSI you received for the same months that you are eligible for Social Security.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI back pay should be paid first or less than a month after the first SSI monthly check is paid. 

Speeding Up Payment of Social Security Disability Back Pay

Calculation and release of back benefits may be accelerated by providing everything the Social Security Administration has asked for including documentation related to your workers compensation, government pension, and Supplemental Security Income claims. If you have received any type of workers compensation or have a workers compensation claim pending, give Social Security a copy of all the workers comp determination letters you have received. If Social Security is waiting for information directly from your workers comp insurer, you might check with Social Security to see if they have received everything they need and, if not, follow up with workers compensation to get it.

If you did not apply for SSI or you received an SSI denial letter and it has been longer than sixty days since you got your first monthly benefit, it is a good idea to contact your local Social Security office about the reason your back benefits have not been released. If you either did not apply for SSI, were denied SSI, or withdrew your SSI claim, ask the local office to send a notification or second notification that no SSI offset is involved.

If the Social Security Administration says they have what they need and they are working on it, it can be helpful to inquire when they expect to complete their processing and then follow up if you have not received your Social Security Disability back pay by that date requesting a local office inquiry be sent on your behalf.

Handling Back Pay Child Benefits Paid to a Now-Adult Child

Learn how to handle a delayed Social Security Disability payment for a minor child of a disabled adult, when it arrives in the child’s name after they’ve reached adulthood. Must the money be shared with the parent?

Dear Benefits Advisor,

My stepmother recently informed me that I would be receiving in my name back pay benefits for when I lived with her as a teen off her disability claim. I am now 32 and had no idea this claim existed. But she has told me that the money belongs to her. Am I to hand it over to her? Will I have to pay taxes on the amount? Which is over $40,000 that has been awarded. Just really want to do the right thing but some of that money could really help out me and my family.


Dear Susie,

The money legally belongs to you, and you will have to pay taxes on at least part of it. How much will be taxable will depend on your total adjusted gross income when you file your taxes. When you receive the funds, I suggest that you get an estimate of your tax liability by contacting a tax accountant so that you can pay the estimated taxes when due, which is usually the calendar quarter in which the taxable income is received.

You might consider giving part of the benefits that do not have to be used for taxes to your mother in consideration of the expenses she had caring for you when you were a minor and while her Social Security claim pended for a number of years.


Benefits Advisor