While most people who are approved for Social Security or SSI disability will continue to receive their benefit check for years to come, there are things that can cause your Social Security disability benefits to be terminated. If you're applying for Social Security or SSI disability, or are currently receiving Social Security or SSI benefits, it's important to be aware of what could make your disability benefits stop.
What can cause your benefits to stop differs between the two separate disability benefit programs that are operated by the Social Security Administration (SSA), so let's take a brief look at the two programs.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is based on an individual having paid enough in Social Security taxes to be eligible for benefits. Someone who has not worked long enough, or recent enough, to have sufficient “work credits” is not eligible for SSDI regardless of their disability.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based (low-income) program. It is not necessary to have paid Social Security taxes, or to have even worked, to be eligible for SSI. However, there are strict limits in the amount of income or assets that someone can have to qualify for SSI benefits.
The most common reason for someone's Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits to stop is because they have returned to work. While in some cases it's possible to work while continuing to receive SSDI payments, there are specific rules you need to follow.
If you return to work while receiving SSDI benefits, the SSA will want to determine if you are engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). The biggest factor in determining if work qualifies as SGA is the amount a person is paid. In 2021, someone is generally considered to be engaging in SGA if he or she earns more than $1,310 ($2,190 for blind SSDI recipients) So, for example, if you are making, say, $200 per week doing part-time work, you would not be working over the SGA limit. However, this isn't a cut and dry issue. If you are working a lot, it's possible for the SSA to determine that your job duties constitute SGA even if you are earning less than the SGA amount.
One exception to the SGA rule is what's referred to as a “trial work period” (TWP). This period of time allows someone who is currently receiving SSDI benefits to attempt to return to work without automatically losing their SSDI eligibility. In most cases, you can work for up to nine months during your trial work period without causing your SSDI benefits to stop, regardless of how much you're making. If, at the end of the TWP, you are still working and making over the SGA level, you will no longer be considered disabled and your Social Security payments will stop. For more information, see our article on the trial work period and the three-year time period that follows, the "extended period of eligibility."
Social Security disability beneficiaries who reach full retirement age (currently 66) will see their disability benefits stop, since one cannot receive both Social Security disability benefits and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. If you're receiving SSDI when you reach full retirement age, you will instead begin to receive payments under the Social Security retirement benefits program.
If you are confined to a prison or other penal institution after being convicted of a crime, your disability benefits will stop for the period of time you are incarcerated. Your SSDI benefits will be suspended after 30 days of incarceration (unless you participate in a rehabilitation program) and will be reinstated the month following your release.
In addition, sometimes a felony conviction will lead to a cessation of benefits even without incarceration. Being convicted of a misdemeanor will not affect your SSDI benefits unless you're sent to jail for a month or more. For more information, see our article on disability benefits, felony convictions, and jail.
If you are receiving dependents benefits based on someone else's earnings record, there are additional changes that can cause your benefits to stop, such as getting married (under certain circumstances), turning a certain age, or a change in living arrangements. For example, if your parent receives SSDI and you are receiving benefits based on their record, your benefits will generally end if you turn 18 or get married.
Note that if you collect SSDI benefits based on your own work history and earnings record, getting married will not affect your benefits (unlike SSI).
The most common reason for someone to lose SSI benefits is having too much income, either through working or receiving it in some other way.
If you are receiving SSI and, for any reason, your income or assets rise above the limit for SSI eligibility, your benefits will stop. In 2021, the individual income limit for SSI is $794 per month, and the asset limit is $2,000. While SSI recipients should be aware of these limits, determining whether you are over the income limit can be a complex issue due to a number of factors:
Increase in income. If you begin receiving an income from any source (for example, a private pension or alimony payments) that puts you over the income limit, your SSI benefits could stop. The SSA differentiates between “earned income” (from working) and “unearned income” (from things like alimony or unemployment benefits.) The SSA counts only certain types of unearned and earned income; for example, more than half of your earnings from work aren't counted toward the SSI limit. For the details, see our article on what's "countable income."
Free food or shelter. The SSA also considers non-cash food and shelter that is provided by someone else as income (called in-kind income.) If you begin to receive housing or food from someone else for free, the SSA will count a portion of its value as income, which in most cases could reduce your SSI payment. For more information, see our article on in-kind income. This does not apply when someone else pays for utilities.
Spousal income. A portion of a spouse's income is considered to be “deemed” to SSI recipients, meaning it is counted as income when determining their SSI eligibility. This could mean that someone who is granted SSI benefits while unmarried could see those benefits stop if he or she gets married to a spouse who is earning an income. This could also affect someone who is approved for SSI while their spouse is not working (or earning very little) and that spouse later starts working or has an increase in income. For more information, see our article on spousal income deeming.
Parental income. Some of a parent's income is deemed to a child SSI recipient. See our article on family income deeming.
Increase in assets. If you receive resources, and you see an increase in the total amount of your assets that brings you above the established resource limit ($2,000), this could cause your SSI benefits to cease. Again, this is a complex determination, as there are numerous exceptions (for instance, your home doesn't count, and in most cases your vehicle). If you became disabled before the age of 26, you could also put money into an ABLE account, where it won't be counted for SSI purposes.
SSI benefits will stop if you return to work and Social Security finds you're no longer disabled. Note that trial work periods are not available under the SSI program, but SSI does have a Ticket to Work Program with work incentives. For more information, see our article on SSI's Ticket to Work program.
Children who are receiving SSI will have their condition reevaluated according to the adult SSI standards when they turn 18, and depending on the SSA's decision, this could cause their benefits to stop.
The rules surrounding cessation of benefits for medical improvement are the same for Social Security disability and SSI:
If your disabling medical or mental/psychiatric condition(s) improve, the SSA can find that you are no longer disabled, making your benefit payments stop. The SSA periodically reviews the case of all beneficiaries (usually every three or seven years) to determine whether they are still disabled. But the standards used in “continuing disability reviews” for determining whether someone has improved enough to return to work are tough for the SSA to meet, and most disability beneficiaries (about 85%) continue to receive benefits after their review. For more information, see our article on Continuing Disability Reviews.
Updated January 6, 2021