People who are unable to work due to disability invariably suffer gaps in their employment history, or times when they made less money due to their medical condition. For disability applicants who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, as opposed to SSI), this can reduce your disability or retirement benefits or even make you ineligible for benefits.
To decrease the impact of these low earnings years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) created the "disability freeze." Also called a period of disability, the disability freeze "freezes" an individual's insured status and, in turn, preserves the individual's eligibility for future retirement and disability benefits.
What are the Requirements for a Disability Freeze?
To qualify for a disability freeze, you must:
- have insured status for SSDI (based on your work history)
- file for disability with the SSA while you are disabled within 12 months of when your disability ends, and
- be disabled or blind (as defined by the SSA).
Can I Get a Disability Freeze Even if I Don't Get Disability Payments?
Some people who aren't receiving monthly disability payments may still qualify for a disability freeze. If you do apply for disability benefits later, the SSA will take your period of disability into account when calculating your benefit amounts. This may result in higher disability payments for you and your family.
A freeze for individuals not receiving monthly disability benefits is only available for:
- statutorily blind individuals who are still able to work
- people whose eligibility for a disability freeze is based on earnings as a railroad worker or as military personnel (because these earnings do not count for Social Security purposes), and
- incarcerated individuals (under certain conditions).
Can I Still Get a Disability Freeze if My Impairment Began A Few Years Ago?
As long as you can prove that you became disabled while you were still insured for SSDI (before your date last insured), even if it was several years in the past, you are still eligible for a disability freeze.
Can I Get a Disability Freeze if I Am on SSI?
A disability freeze is available to SSDI recipients only because it is directly related to a person's earnings record.
Should I Apply for SSDI and a Disability Freeze or Take Early Retirement?
If you are approaching the age of 62 and are disabled, you may be considering taking early retirement instead of applying for SSDI. However, if you are approved for SSDI (which is easier to get for older claimants), you can apply for a disability freeze, which will limit the affects of any low earning years, or years that you didn't work, that were related to your illness. This can result in higher retirement and SSDI payments. For more information, see our article on early retirement and Social Security Disability.