Once your application for Social Security disability benefits has been approved, you can potentially receive disability benefits until you reach retirement age, unless the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a reason to stop your benefits. How long your benefits last mostly depends on whether you start working or your medical condition improves while you're receiving disability benefits.
Here are the most common reasons that disability benefits are terminated before retirement age.
One possible reason why benefits might stop is that you start working, or you begin to earn too much money. SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are meant to provide benefits for people who don't work. So if you become able to earn a substantial income, your ability to collect disability will be affected. Generally, if you are receiving SSDI and you begin to make more than $1,350 per month (the "SGA" amount in 2022), your benefits will be suspended. If you have low vision or are blind, you can make up to $2,260.
The SGA limits above don't apply to SSI recipients; SSI recipients who work have to stay under certain SSI income limits and will have their SSI checks reduced when they make over $85 a month in income.
Even if you stay under the limits, Social Security may see your work as evidence that your condition has improved. But the agency has programs where you can try working for a period of time without jeopardizing your right to collect benefits. SSDI recipients have a trial work program and SSI recipients can use the Ticket to Work program. (For more information, see our section on returning to work while receiving benefits.)
Social Security will stop your disability benefits if you improve medically to the extent that the agency would no longer consider you disabled under its rules. Social Security will periodically review SSDI and SSI recipients to determine whether or not their condition still qualifies them for disability payments. This type of review is known as a CDR, or continuing disability review.
A CDR will generally occur every three or seven years, though, in rare cases, reviews are conducted once a year. (A yearly review usually only happens if, at the time of approval, Social Security notes that it looks as though an applicant's condition might improve at some point in the near future.)
If your medical records don't show medical improvement, your entitlement to disability benefits will continue. In most cases, it's difficult for Social Security to find that enough medical improvement has taken place that the disability recipient is able to return to work. Only about 15% of disability recipients have their benefits terminated after a CDR.
Some claimants (applicants) who were approved for disability benefits through an administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing, versus being approved at the initial claim or the reconsideration appeal level, may have an easier time keeping their benefits. It can sometimes be harder for Social Security to determine that a claimant has had medical improvement after an ALJ approval, because ALJs have more flexibility in making their decisions than claims examiners.
Even though CDR claims examiners might not agree that a recipient was ever disabled, unless they can point to proof of medical improvement in the medical record, they can't order disability benefits to be ceased—except under certain exceptions. For more information, read our article on when you might fail a continuing disability review.
If an SSDI recipient dies, Social Security won't pay disability benefits for the month of death. For example, if the recipient dies on February 25th, the check (or direct deposit) received in February must be sent back to Social Security. However, certain family members of the deceased may be eligible for survivors benefits. Note that survivors benefits aren't available to the family members of those who were receiving SSI at the time of death.
If you try to keep your benefits by not telling Social Security when your condition has improved or when you start earning an income, you could be liable for repaying disability overpayments. For more information, see our section on reporting changes to Social Security.
You might lose your disability benefits in some less common situations as well, such as going to jail or leaving the country, depending on whether you receive SSDI or SSI. For more information, see our article on when SSDI and SSI benefits stop.
While no one is guaranteed a lifetime of disability benefits, once a person has been awarded disability benefits, they have a good chance of continuing to receive disability benefits until retirement age. At retirement age, monthly benefits can continue, but if you have been receiving SSDI, your monthly payments will become Social Security retirement income, and if you have been receiving SSI disability, your payments will become SSI for the elderly.
Also, if you're receiving SSI at age 62, but you're eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security will apply for those benefits for you. The same is not true for SSI; you can continue receiving SSDI benefits until full retirement age (66 or 67).
Children with disabilities whose families meet the income and asset requirements of the SSI program can usually receive SSI benefits until they're 18. If they're still in high school when they turn 18, their remain eligible for SSI until they graduate high school or turn 19, whichever comes first.
At age 18 (or 19), Social Security will reevaluate the "child's" medical condition according to the adult disability criteria. If the child meets Social Security's definition of "disability" for adults, they'll usually be eligible to continue receiving benefits.
If you're over 18, disabled, and one of your parents receives Social Security disability or retirement benefits, you can collect disability benefits as a "disabled adult child." You'll receive benefits based on your parent's earnings record if you meet the following four requirements:
Read more about Social Security's Disabled Adult Child Program.
If you're struggling with a continuing disability review, or you're worried your benefits might get cut off, contact an experienced disability attorney for some advice on handling the paperwork.
Updated March 4, 2022