Social Security Award Letter: A Complete Guide

Did you receive a Social Security Award Letter? This complete guide explains everything you need to know about an SSA Award Letter.

Elderly Women with Social Security Award Letter

Congrats, you got a Social Security Award Letter. If the Social Security letter says “Notice of Award,” then congratulations, you won! Your disability claim was successful. 

Your hard-fought battle has finally shown results. Many people give up on their claims before ever getting to this point. Feel very proud you stuck it out until the end.

However, a Social Security Award Letter can be overwhelming. The letter can have 20 pages or more, with confusing rules and regulations. It can also have lots of financial amounts and dates. This information may not always align with what you or your lawyer were expecting.

An SSA Award Letter is so complex that our firm has a highly trained paralegal to analyze each claim. We ensure our clients maximize their financial results and make sure Social Security has made no mistakes!

Therefore, our disability claim lawyers are here to help break down some of the most critical information about the Social Security Award Letter for you.

What Is a Social Security Award Letter?

A Social Security Award Letter (also known as an Award Notice) informs an individual their claim for benefits has been approved. An SSA Award Letter usually arrives between 1-3 months after the decision.

An SSA Award Letter also contains information like the date you will collect disability payments, the amount of your Social Security Disability benefits, and when to expect payments.

How Do You Get a Copy of Social Security Award Letter?

The SSA sends decision letters through the mail. However, you can monitor the status of your application online through the SSA’s disability information website. 

Applicants must set up an account with the SSA online before accessing information about a pending benefits case. 

  • Go to My Social Security and create an account.
  • Log in to your My Social Security account.

If you need to replace your original award letter, you can request a copy by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visiting your local office.

What Information Is Included in the SSA Award Letter?

The Social Security Award Letter details information about your disability benefits eligibility and payments, including:

  • The date you became disabled (also known as the onset date)
  • The date you become eligible to receive benefits
  • Any amount of past-due benefits owed to you (also known as your back pay)
  • The date when you will receive your past-due benefits
  • Your monthly disability benefit payments amount
  • When you will receive your payment each month
  • When to expect a continuing disability review

Depending on your situation, claim type, and local office, every award letter is different. However, you can typically find these four pieces of information:

1. Onset Date 

The Onset Date indicates the date you became disabled. You likely told Social Security the date you believe your impairments prevented you from working when you started the process. The date Social Security believes you stopped working because of a disability is called your onset date.

Look at the date they say they believe you became disabled and see if it matches when you remember becoming disabled. If it does not, you may want to speak to your attorney right away.

2. Entitlement Date 

The Entitlement Date indicates the date you become eligible to receive benefits from Social Security. This is the date your backpay accrues. It is usually different from your onset date. This is due to Social Security’s rules related to when they pay out back pay.

3. Yearly Back Pay Amount 

Where people receive a lot of back pay, Social Security will typically also provide information about how much they will receive monthly each year. 

For example, Social Security recipients usually receive cost-of-living adjustments annually. The SSA will then list each monthly range to indicate how much in benefits you were receiving.

4. When Your Benefits Start 

Finally, Social Security will typically also indicate an approximation of when your monthly benefits begin. Often, the award letter will say something like, “on or about the third Wednesday of July.” 

If you do not receive your benefits on the exact day noted, do not panic. Sometimes they are a couple of days early or late. However, it is worth following up on the issue if you do not receive a payment within several weeks of the date stated in the Notice of Award. 

Should there be any problems with receiving your monthly benefits, having an experienced attorney on your side can be a huge help. See our services page for more information.

Why Did I Get Two Social Security Award Letters?

When our firm helps a claimant complete an application, we assess eligibility for both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB or SSDI), in addition to several other forms of disability. We do this to maximize the amount awarded to our claimants. 

While some claimants are not eligible for one of the two, occasionally, an individual will win both claims. Because Social Security evaluates the claims separately, they will award them individually. 

However, note this will likely not mean you receive double the pay if you won both claims. When someone wins both SSI and DIB, they receive the maximum amount between the two claims. Therefore, you will receive the larger of the two, not the full amount of both.

You will receive some back pay from one claim and some back pay from the other sometimes. This is due to the entitlement date mentioned above. Both forms of disability evaluate entitlement differently, which sometimes means that a person gets paid one before the other kicks in. In those cases, that claimant may technically receive pay from both claims – just not simultaneously.

The tricky part is the claims that cannot be paid out on top of each other rarely are factored in when the Notice of Award is issued. That means if you receive two award letters, the combined total of both is probably not the amount of backpay you are to receive.

This part of the process is confusing, even for experienced legal assistants. Therefore, if you struggle to understand the amount of backpay you are to receive, it may help to reach out to your legal representative for assistance. They should be able to walk you through the financial outcome of your case.

Also Read: Five Types of Disability. Knowing the claim type is key to understanding your SSA Award Letter. 

SSD Appeals – What If I Disagree with My SSA Award Letter?

Receiving the Notice of Award is overcoming a huge hurdle in the disability claim process. Unfortunately, for some claimants, it is not the end of the battle. Sometimes, a person does not agree with the information on their Notice of Award. In this situation, having a lawyer on your side can dramatically affect the outcome of your case. 

If you have these concerns and have a legal representative, contact your representative immediately; they can help you understand your Notice of Award and determine a good strategy moving forward. 

If you do not have an attorney, consider seeking the opinion of one. An appeal at this stage comes with potential risks, so speak with someone familiar with appeals on award letters.

Your Notice of Award should list your rights to file an appeal to fight any changes with which you disagree. It is usually a few pages in, so look carefully if you are considering doing so. An appeal at this stage has a time limit like any other disability appeal, so you should not delay in asking for help. 

How Long Does It Take to Get Award Letter from Social Security?

Before you can receive your Notice of Award, your disability must be determined. This happens at various stages of a disability claim for different people. Some individuals become disabled shortly after they apply, but this is unusual.

Most disability claimants have to file one or more appeals before their claim succeeds. We strongly encourage you to check out how long each step in the process can take. 

Also Read: What to Expect with a Social Security Disability Claim Timeline

The notification process for the exact moment the decision is made that your medical evidence proves a finding of disability varies from state to state and even between personnel in offices. Sometimes, Social Security will send you a letter letting you know that you have qualified for disability before your award letter arrives.

In other cases, the first you will hear of the success of your claim will be when you receive the Notice of Award. In rare situations, some people actually received money out of the blue before they had any notice they had won their claim!

As you can see, the process can be difficult to predict, even for legal representatives who work in this field daily. However, for many individuals, the Notice of Award may be issued one to three months following the date the finding of disability is issued. Therefore, if you have received a favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge, that is approximately the time it will take for you to receive the official award letter.

However, note these are just guidelines. Unfortunately, backlogs can prolong the process at every stage. You may not always know what’s taking so long.

It’s Been Much Longer Than That, What Could Be Taking So Long?

It’s impossible to know for certain, but often there is a long wait between the finding of disability and the award letter coming in the mail for many claimants. It can be very frustrating and stressful. 

It’s good to understand a bit about the process to explain why you have not received an SSA Award Letter. 

The Social Security Disability Process Delaying Your SSA Award Letter

Here are five reasons that may cause delays with your SSA Award Letter:

1. Social Security Has to Double-Check Your Eligibility

After you are found disabled, Social Security will typically double-check your eligibility. They will then send your claim off to an organization known as the Payment Center. 

The Payment Center will crunch the numbers to determine how much back pay you will receive, how much will be paid in attorney fees, and any other financial considerations. 

Because this process involves the government, they are cautious about it. Especially when paying people money in large quantities.

2. SSA Managers Need to Approve the Distribution of Funds

Sometimes, a claimant receives so much back pay that Social Security requires managers and specially trained analysts to approve the distribution of funds before the award letter can go out. 

The Payment Center differs from Social Security. It is also difficult to contact. The best way to follow up with them is to call your local office and ask them to send a follow-up message to the Payment Center to check in on your Notice of Award.

3. An Administrative Law Judge Must First Write a Decision

In other cases, the Administrative Law Judge tells a claimant they are disabled during the hearing. However, that does not necessarily mean the person will get their award letter right away. 

The judge still has to write up a decision and send the claim to SSA. Then SSA will send the claim to the payment center to figure out how much to pay that person.

4. Complexities Make the Financial Analysis Process Move Slowly

Occasionally, a person has special complexities involved in their case. These complexities can make the financial analysis process move more slowly. 

For example, you may have a past workers’ compensation claim or have received public disability benefits. This can slow down the payment center’s processing time. 

We also see this occur when claimants are awarded both SSI and DIB claims because the payment center must weigh both claims together when issuing the award.

5. Usual Delays That Are Not Clear

Finally, sometimes claims move slowly for reasons that may never become clear. Unfortunately, this is normal throughout the Social Security disability claims process. 

Having a representative on your side can help track the status of essential documents like the award letter and ensure regular follow-up occurs.


Getting a Social Security Notice of Award letter means you won your claim. However, there are many complex elements to consider after receiving the letter. 

Does the timeline match your claim? Are the payout amounts correct for your claim? In what timeline can you expect your claim to be handled? 

Evans Disability is here to help guide you through these questions and the process. Contact our experienced Social Security Disability lawyers to help win your case!