What to Know About the Difference Between Back Pay and Retroactive Pay?

Although government programs can be reliable and provide proper support, they can be difficult for some people to understand. This makes it more difficult to fully understand the many benefits you might eventually receive. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two popular programs that the government offers to help those in need. It is easy to confuse these two, but this is why we made this article. We will help you understand key information which includes the potential benefits of these 2 programs.

SSDI and SSI in a Word

SSDI is a program that can only offer assistance to people with a qualifying job history and a disability. SSI, on the other hand, is a program that offers assistance to people who meet the income requirements. However they need to be a certain age, or have a certain kind of disability. The main difference between these two programs is clear and simple: SSI focuses on age or disability and income status, while SSDI focuses on disability and work credits. Despite being quite different, they are similar.

The Difference Between Retroactive Pay and Back Pay

You might come across the terms “back pay” and “retroactive benefits” when learning about these two programs. This is why you need to understand what they mean.

Retroactive Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will provide recipients with support for any eligible period during which they were dealing with a disability before submitting an SSDI application. This support is referred to as retroactive pay. An SSDI applicant may occasionally delay submitting their application.

There are various reasons why someone would put off applying, but it’s crucial to remember that a disability must be expected to last at least 12 months to qualify. Considering this, some applicants decide to wait until their disability has affected them for 12 months or until they expect it to remain for 12 months. Applicants can be entitled to retroactive benefits if it is found that they would have been eligible before submitting their application. How much a person receives in retroactive benefits is based on three factors:

  • Application Date
  • Disability Onset Date
  • Five-Month Waiting Period

#1 Application Date

Since the amount of benefits is intended to make up for individuals receiving SSDI payments prior to the application date, it is crucial to know when the application was submitted. To find out when you applied for SSDI, check your application history.

#2 Disability Onset Date

The day you first met the SSA’s definition of disability is your disability onset date. It is either the day you claimed to have been disabled or the day SSA found that you had a disability. This won’t necessarily be the same day because you’ll need to provide your Alleged Onset Date (AOD) when you apply for SSDI. The SSA will estimate how long you have had your disability according to this date.

They will review your medical records and other documents to see whether you could provide evidence that the AOD you provided was accurate. Your AOD will become your Established Onset Date (EOD) if, after reviewing the supporting documents you provide, the SSA accepts it. Your EOD, however, will be a date that the SSA chooses if they don’t find that your evidence demonstrates proof that your AOD is accurate. When it comes to retroactive benefits, the EOD will be crucial!

#3 Five-Month Waiting Period

Finally, the five-month waiting period will be taken into account when calculating your retroactive pay. This is due to the fact that beneficiaries must wait for a total of five months after the disability onset date has become an EOD to be eligible for payments. All recipients of SSDI benefits are subject to this five-month waiting period. Let’s say your EOD is on February 1st, 2022. After that date, you wouldn’t be eligible to get benefits for another five months.

How Much Can You Expect to Get from Retroactive Benefits?

The SSA has set a 12-month maximum for retroactive benefits. This means that you cannot count on the SSA covering the entire period during which you were waiting to apply for SSDI. Let’s say that five years after having a disability, you applied for SSDI assistance. They won’t be able to make payments for the full period. You would have needed to be disabled for at least 17 months before applying if you wanted to get the most retroactive benefits. This is because the SSA would deduct the five-month waiting period before paying for the full 12-month period. Any additional time beyond the allotted twelve months (plus the five-month waiting period, for a total of seventeen months) would not be covered.

Back Pay

It may take a while to process an SSDI application (typically 3 to 6 months). Unfortunately, this is the reason why many applicants for the program are still due some back pay after their applications have been approved. It is the amount of SSDI support that a recipient is eligible for from the date of their application to the month in which they got approval. The following three elements will determine how much back pay they will receive:

  • Application Date
  • Disability Onset Date
  • Five-Month Waiting Period

#1 Application Date

It is so simple yet important to determine the application date. This is the day on which you turned in your SSDI application. It will be essential when figuring out your back pay because your back pay looks at repaying you from the date of your application until you receive approval for benefits.

#2 Disability Onset Date

As we explained earlier, your disability onset date is the date you got your disability according to the SSA definition of a disability. It can be the date you claimed to have a disability or the date the SSA found that you were dealing with a disability. Once more, the date won’t always match. That’s because you must include your AOD on your SSDI application. The SSA will look at this date to figure out how long you have been disabled.

They will check your medical records and other supporting documentation. They do so to determine whether you were able to show evidence that the AOD you provided was accurate. If they approve it, your AOD will then turn into your EOD. Anyways, when it comes to back pay, the EOD is so important.

#3 Five-Month Waiting Period

Lastly, while calculating your back pay, the five-month waiting period will be taken into account. Recipients have to wait for a total of five months after the disability onset date has become an EOD in order to be eligible for payments. This five-month waiting period applies to all SSDI benefit recipients.

How Much Back Pay Can You Get?

In contrast with retroactive benefits, back pay has no maximum. You will receive a lump sum payment when it’s time to get your back pay. On average, recipients have to wait between one and two months to get their back pay.

What About Retroactive Pay and Back Pay for SSI?

The information we explained above covers retroactive and back pay for SSDI. For SSI, things are a little different. The main difference is that SSI does not provide retroactive compensation. This is because those who qualify can only get benefits depending on the initial date of their application. Still, SSI recipients are entitled to back pay. SSI back pay will take the application date into consideration. It doesn’t have a waiting period, so the calculation for back pay will be different from SSDI.

Additionally, beneficiaries would not get back pay in a lump sum if the amount is higher than the maximum monthly benefit of $943 (for 2024). Instead, they would receive it in three payments over six months.


Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two support options available to assist people in need. These programs can offer assistance in a variety of ways. SSDI offers both benefits; retroactive pay and back pay. On the other hand, SSI only offers back pay.

Retroactive pay involves offering benefits while you were disabled even before applying for disability benefits. While back pay handles the time span between the date of your application and the date you received approval for benefits. Determining both benefits depends on 3 important factors; application date, disability onset date, and five-month waiting period. However for SSI it is a bit different because it doesn’t account for a waiting period when it comes to back pay!