Social Security disability is an insurance program to which you’ve contributed through payroll taxes that you have paid with each and every paycheck that you’ve earned. If you become disabled and unable to work, you have the right to apply for disability benefits. If Social Security finds that the “onset date” of disability began before your approval (which it probably has), you will also be entitled to an award of back benefits. Here’s how it works.
The Notice of Award
When you are approved for Social Security disability or for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you will receive a Notice of Award from Social Security. Your notice should give you the amount of back benefits, the monthly amount of current benefits, and when the payments begin.
Back benefits on approved Social Security disability claims are payable for a period of 12 months prior to the date of application. They won’t pay you for the entire period of your disability, or for the entire period of your joblessness due to your disability. They go 12 months prior to your application, pay it all in a lump sum, and deduct any fees your attorney is due, if you used an attorney (these fees are capped at $6,000, and usually amount to about 25 percent of your back benefit amount).
The rules for SSI are somewhat different. Back benefits on Supplemental Security Income claims are payable back to the date of application.
The Waiting Period
Remember that your benefits will not officially start until your sixth full month of disability. This is a standard waiting period that all successful disability claims are subject to. If your onset date is in the middle of January of 2019, then your disability benefits aren’t payable until July 2019, after five full months of disability have passed. If you apply in 2020 for disability, and win your claim, your back benefits period begins in July 2019, not in January.
The amount that you receive depends on a complicated formula that Social Security applies to your past earnings, the amount you paid in to the disability insurance system, the number of years you’ve worked, and so on. The annual benefit statement you receive in the mail each January will give you an estimated amount of disability as well as retirement benefits you can expect from Social Security. If you are approved for disability or for SSI, You should receive the first payment within 60 days of the date of your approval, which should be on the approval notice.
Remember that SSI back benefits are payable back to the date of application, without any waiting period. SSI benefits may be supplemented by your state, but be aware that if you have received any state welfare (general assistance) payments over the retroactive period, that amount will be deducted from your SSI back benefits.