Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides a financial cushion to cover your living expenses if a medical condition or injury prevents you from working. Make no mistake about it, getting approved for disability benefits can take a long time. However, once you get approved, you may get backpay, also called “past-due benefits.” Backpay is the amount of money owed to you from the date of your eligibility to the date you were granted benefits.
If your disability restricts you from working and your financial resources are dwindling, you may have trouble paying your bills while waiting to get approved for SSDI benefits. What’s more, if you have court-ordered obligations, such as child support, you may fall behind in your payments. Your commitment to pay child support does not stop because you have a disability. So, if you become delinquent with your child support payments, your SSDI backpay can be garnished. A court can include your SSDI backpay and monthly disability benefits when calculating your monthly child support obligation. And, because of this, the benefits can be seized to pay your back child support.
Generally, Social Security and other federal benefits are exempt from garnishment by creditors and bill collectors. But, under certain circumstances, some federal benefits, liked SSDI and SSDI backpay, can be seized to satisfy a debt or legal obligation. Let’s take a closer look at when backpay comes into the SSDI application process and why backpay is subject to garnishment.
Applying for Disability Benefits
If you have paid Social Security taxes through your jobs over a certain amount of years, you are eligible to apply for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers you disabled if you have a medical condition that has lasted for 12 months or longer or an illness, such as cancer, that is expected to cause your death. Besides SSDI, SSA operates the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which assists disabled, aged, and blind people with little to no income. The benefits provide for the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Unlike SSDI, a person’s employment history is not a strong factor in applying and getting approved for SSI benefits. Eligibility is based on an applicant’s income and assets.
The SSDI application asks for the date you claim your disability began, which SSA calls the “alleged onset date” of your disability. Along with your SSDI application, you can include your employment history, medical records, the medical treatment you are receiving for your disability, and other documents that support your disability claim. Once your claim is approved, SSA makes its determination as to when your disability began, which the SSA calls the “established onset date.”
If you are fortunate, you can get approved for disability benefits on your first try. But, that is not likely since the SSA denies the majority of claims at the initial application level. However, in cases of a terminal illness, like cancer, approval can come within two months. Once your initial application is denied, the appeals process begins.
If SSA denies your initial claim, you can ask SSA to reconsider your application. At this point, applicants include additional information that may have been missing in the initial application. If your application is denied on the reconsideration level, you can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. It can take up to a year to get a hearing before a judge. And, once again, there is no guarantee that the judge will approve your application. If this is the case, you can take the next step and have the application reviewed by an Appeals Council. The final step in the appeals process is taking the case to a federal court.
It can take anywhere from months to possibly two years or more to go through the SSDI process. Keep in mind that backpay accumulates for claimants who eventually get approved for disability benefits.
Backpay Accumulates During the Application Process
Backpay accrues from the date that you initially applied for SSDI benefits to the date that you were approved. Backpay does not go back any further than 12 months prior to filing your application for SSDI benefits. In addition to backpay, you may be eligible to receive retroactive pay if SSA approves. Retroactive pay is awarded from the alleged onset date— the date you claim your disability began—to the date that SSA approves your application.
A word of caution: Do not expect to receive your disability benefits immediately because, in most cases, applicants usually have to wait five months before SSA begins paying benefits. The SSA, however, has an exception. The five-month waiting period is not required if an application had a prior period of disability that ended within 60 months (five years) before the current period of disability began.
SSA has a mandatory five-month waiting period primarily because SSA wants to make sure that applicants have a long-term disability before awarding benefits. SSA does not pay benefits for short-term disability. While you will get your first disability payment in the sixth month, backpay usually begins within the first two months of being appproved.
Exceptions to the Garnishment Rule
Federal benefits are usually protected from garnishment, which occurs when a creditor or debt collector obtains a court order to take money from a debtor’s wages or bank account to pay a debt. The debt could include regular debts, such as medical bills, personal loans, or credit card bills, for example. Social Security retirement, SSDI, and SSI are among the federal benefits protected from garnishment.
The government, however, allows certain creditors to garnish federal benefits. The way it usually works is a bill collector or creditor asks a court to issue an order garnishing a certain portion of the debtor’s wages until the debt is paid. How do you know if a creditor or collector has a garnishment against you? Some states require creditors to send a notice to the debtors while in other states, debtors find out through their banks when their accounts are frozen or a portion of their wages is withheld.
Federal government departments can garnish benefits, too. For example, the IRS can garnish your disability benefits to pay outstanding income taxes. The IRS can take up to 15 percent of the monthly benefits until the debt is paid. When it comes to SSI, however, the IRS cannot garnish these benefits to pay delinquent federal taxes.
The federal government can also attach SSDI benefits and backpay when you are delinquent with child support payments. What’s more, the other parent can bring an action to garnish disability benefits and backpay to enforce a child support or alimony obligation. In this instance, there is no appeal to SSA or any other federal agency over garnishing benefits for past-due income taxes, child support, or alimony payments. If you do not agree with a garnishment, you can challenge the action in court. It is advisable to speak with a Social Security disability attorney before taking legal action.
In addition, if your personal income has decreased because of your disability, paying your current level of child support may become a financial strain. Depending on your relationship with the other parent, you may be able to work out an agreement on making reduced child support payments. It may be helpful to get the modification approved by the court. In this way, both sides can legally enforce the agreement.
Alternatively, you can ask the court for a child support modification hearing. You may want to have a legal consultation with an attorney who can best represent your interests in court. Your lawyer can explain to the judge why the original child support order should be modified now that you have a disability and a reduced income. Generally, a judge considers a number of factors when determining child support, including the income of both parents.
Need Help in Getting Disability Benefits? Contact Joel Thrift Law Today
Without a doubt, applying for Social Security disability benefits can be confusing, and having those benefits garnished can be frustrating. Make today your turning point by contacting Joel Thrift Law. Our firm can assist you in every step of this complex process, from filing the initial application to appearing before a judge during an appeals hearing, We understand how SSA determines disability and know what documents can strengthen a disability claim.
If your benefits have been garnished for child support or are in jeopardy of being garnished, contact us immediately to determine how we can help you with this situation. The Social Security Administration limits your time to apply for disability benefits or appeal a decision, so do not miss your opportunity to get the benefits to which you are entitled. Call Joel Thrift Law to schedule a consultation.