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What is a Social Security protective filing date and why is it important?

A protective filing date is the date that you initially notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of an intention to apply for benefits. It can be the date you formally file the application, but it can also be established by a prior written or verbal contact by phone, by mail, in person or online.

You get a protective filing date no matter what type of benefit you’re seeking, but it’s particularly important in connection with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the two benefits Social Security administers for people with disabilities.

With SSI, the protective filing date determines when your benefits begin, if your claim is approved. With SSDI, it affects how much you could receive in back pay, a form of retroactive payment for a period in which you were medically qualified for benefits but your claim had not yet been approved.

The process for establishing a protective filing date differs slightly for SSI and SSDI. Here’s how it works for each type of disability benefit.

SSI protective filing date

You can establish your protective date for Supplemental Security Income orally or in writing. For example:

  • Start filling out an online application for disability benefits. Once you enter a certain amount of information, you can save the application and get a reentry number that allows you to continue it later. Doing this establishes your protective filing date by triggering the local Social Security office to move forward and schedule an interview, as is required for SSI.
  • Call Social Security's national customer service line (800-772-1213) to set up a telephone interview or in-person meeting at a local Social Security office
  • Pay a visit to your local office. If you state an intention to seek SSI, that date will be your protective date. Local offices fully reopened April 7 after being closed to walk-in traffic for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Social Security recommends calling in advance and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.

You must complete an SSI application within 60 days to lock in the protective date.

If your SSI claim is approved, Social Security generally sets eligibility for benefits to begin the first day of the calendar month following the protective filing date. Even a one-day difference in establishing the date can affect your benefits. If Oct. 31 is your protective date, for example, you become eligible for benefits Nov. 1. But if you wait until Nov. 1 to establish the date, you won’t become eligible for benefits until Dec. 1.


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SSDI protective filing date

With SSDI, you must provide signed written notice of your intent to apply for benefits, but the “signature” can be provided remotely by a Social Security employee. You can establish your protective filing date online via the benefit application process described above, or by calling Social Security and having an SSA representative document the protective date.

On the plus side, you have more time to file the SSDI application — six months from the protective date. And if your application is approved, you may be eligible for past-due benefits covering up to 12 months prior to your protective date, if Social Security determines that you became disabled — essentially, unable to work due to your medical condition — before you contacted the agency about claiming benefits.

Keep in mind

  • You can have someone else, such as a relative, contact Social Security on your behalf to communicate that you intend to apply for SSDI, which will establish a protective filing date.
  • The protective filing date remains in force through the Social Security appeals process if you challenge an initial denial of benefits. That may be a consideration if you are choosing between appealing or filing a new benefit claim, which would generate a new protective date.
  • The protective date can also determine the start date for Social Security retirement and survivor benefits. People applying for these benefits after reaching their full retirement age may be able to claim up to six months of retroactive benefits.

Published April 8, 2022