In some cases, you are entitled to receive payments you were owed but didn’t collect yet. For example, let’s say you waited almost a year after reaching your full retirement age to file an application for benefits. The Social Security Administration will pay you benefits going back six months. The SSA will only pay back benefits for six months. Still, it’s worth knowing about this because every Social Security check counts. If you know you’re going to start collecting as soon as you reach full retirement age, it’s best to apply no more than three months prior to that date.

Back benefits are not payable if you begin receiving your retirement checks before full retirement. Reduced benefits are payable beginning the month you file your application to receive the checks.

If you’re entitled to back benefits, you don’t have to get a retroactive check. Instead, you can ask the SSA to add six months of delayed retirement credits toward future benefits (provided you were in fact owed six months). In other words, you’ll build your benefit value if you ask for a credit instead of a retroactive check.

If your spouse dies and you are eligible for survivor benefits and you want to begin collecting them, it’s important to apply right away, or at least within six months of your spouse’s death if you are at full retirement age at the time of his or her death. Many grieving spouses don’t file for their survivor benefits in a timely fashion. Thus, they lose out on benefits they could otherwise have collected. Remember, the SSA will only pay back benefits for six months if you are at full retirement age, and the SSA will pay no back benefits if you are filing for reduced survivor benefits. Also, remember that collecting survivor benefits, or any other Social Security benefit, only makes sense if you’re not working, or you’re not going to greatly exceed the earnings limit if you do work.

There is a slight difference when it comes to Social Security disability benefits. When your application for disability benefits is approved, there is a five-month waiting period before you begin collecting your monthly checks. Back benefits go back to the time you were disabled and filed for benefits, less the five-month waiting period. For example, if you became disabled, filed twelve months later, and were approved immediately, you would receive seven months of back disability benefits.