How to Calculate Retroactive Benefits (back benefits) for Social Security Disability

November 14, 2014 in


Today we’re going to talk about how to calculate your retroactive benefits in terms of Social Security Disability payments. In general, your retroactive benefits are based upon when your disability began, that would be your “onset date” and what your filing date is. Your filing date is based upon when you file your initial application, and you can get paid as far back as 12 months prior to your filing date.  When you are calculating your retroactive benefits you look to see when your disability began and also when you filed your initial application for benefits. There is one caveat to the whole system: there is a five-month waiting period before you can start collecting your disability benefits. This is just a processing fee that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is essentially charging. It’s not like they are telling you it’s a fee, but it’s just a five-month wait period while they are processing your application and your benefits. Unfortunately, it’s something that everyone has; it’s just a blanket waiting period.

When you calculate the retroactive benefits it can be a little bit confusing, but it’s based on what your monthly benefits would be, and that monthly benefit is calculated by the payment center with SSA. The payment center looks to see what you’ve paid into the system in Social Security taxes and runs calculations to determine what your monthly benefit would be.  When you have your disability date, you get paid back benefits up to your disability date.

The retroactive benefits are best explained through examples. Let’s go through a couple of examples, so you can get a better idea of what kind of benefits you can expect:

  1. Disability date that is the same as your filing date: For the first example let’s look at you having a disability date that is the same as your filing date. An example of that would be that you are working full time, you get into a major car accident, and you are paralyzed from the neck down. You put in your application through the hospital while you are going through surgery, or your caseworker puts in your application. Therefore, this is going to be the same date as your disability date, the date of the accident. Let’s use January 1, 2013, as your accident date. This is also going to be your filing date as well. Your case is finally approved, it takes seven months for them, Social Security, to approve your case, look through your medical records, see what’s going on with your treatment, and then make a decision.  They approve your case on July 1, 2013.  The back benefits you would get would go back to January 2013.  But, then you have to consider the five-month wait period.  Five months from January would be June 2013. Your benefits would start as of June 1, 2013.  Say your benefit is $1,000 per month (the average is about $1,200 to $1,300, but let’s go with $1,000 to make it easier).  You would get back benefits from when your claim was approved back to the end of the five-month wait period.  So in this example, you would get $1,000 in back benefits.
  2. Disability began two years prior to your filing date: What if we used a different example where your disability began two years prior to your filing date. Your disability began in January 2012. We’ll just call this “disability.” You actually filed your application in January of 2014. This is your filing date. A lot of times this happens because the applicant is unable to work at this point, but they keep thinking they are going to get back to work. Finally, in January 2014 when they realize they are just not able to do it anymore, they put in their application for their disability benefits. In this situation, you know that you can get paid 12 months prior to your filing date. Even if SSA or a judge agrees that you became disabled in January 2012, you will only get paid as far back as January 2013. This part is going to encompass the five-month wait period. You’ll have your disability date as of January 2012. Five months from that date you’re eligible for payments, so that would be June 2012, but because of the filing date, you can only get paid 12 months prior to that. You’re going to maximize your benefits as of January 2013.
  3. The hearing judge disagrees with your disability date: Let’s look at a third example that would come into play. Your filing date is on time, you go to a hearing in front of a judge and the judge doesn’t agree that your disability date is what it is. He then amends your onset date. Your onset date is now changed to way after your filing date. Say you file your application in January 2013, the judge at the hearing seems to think your disability really began in July of 2013. This is your new alleged onset date, and this is your filing date. You’re going to get back benefits up to July 2013. Whenever your disability date is, if it’s before or after your filing date, then that’s when you are going to get your benefits. Let’s say the judge approves your case in July of 2014, you would look at this disability date, July of 2013, you’d throw in the five-month waiting period, and you’d be eligible to get your benefits as of December 2013.
  4. Social Security Legal Assistance

If you have questions on how to calculate your retroactive benefit, you can always call your attorney to help explain it a little bit or you can even call your local Social Security office. They’ll be able to tell you what your monthly benefit amount is going to be. And, as I said in the beginning, that’s based on how much you’ve paid into the system in Social Security taxes. If you use one of these calculations, then you can roughly estimate what you should be expecting in the mail in regards to retroactive benefits.