Once your application for Social Security disability benefits has been approved, you can potentially receive disability benefits up to the point at which you reach retirement age, unless there is a reason they should stop. 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 begin to earn too much money. SSDI and SSI are meant to provide benefits for people who do not work, so if you become able to earn a substantial income, this will affect your ability to collect disability. Generally, if you are receiving SSDI and you begin to make more than $1,260 per month (the "SGA" amount in 2020), your benefits will be suspended (people receiving benefits for blindness can make up to $2,110). These limits 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. There are, however, programs where you can try working for a period of time without jeopardizing your right to collect benefits, called trial work for SSDI recipients and ticket to work for SSI recipients. (For more information, see our section on returning to work.)
Your disability benefits can be stopped if you improve medically to the extent that you can no longer be considered disabled. Social Security disability and SSI recipients periodically have their cases reviewed to determine whether or not their condition still qualifies them for disability payments. This 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. (This usually only occurs if, at the time of approval, the Social Security Administration (SSA) notes that it looks as though a claimant's condition might improve at some point in the near future.)
In the recent past, the SSA had a large backlog of continuing disability reviews, meaning that recipients were having them done less often (for instance, a review that was set for every three years might actually done in the fifth year), but the agency appears to have caught up in 2018.
If your medical records don't show medical improvement, your entitlement to disability benefits will continue. It's difficult, in most cases, for Social Security to find that enough medical improvement has taken place so that the disability recipient is able to return to work. Only about 15% of disaiblity recipients have their benefits terminated after a CDR.
Some claimants who were approved for disability benefits through an administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing versus being approved at the initial claim or reconsideration appeal levels may have an easier time keeping their benefits. It can be harder for the SSA to determine that an individual has had medical improvement after an ALJ approval because ALJs have more flexibility in formulating their decisions than disability examiners. Even though a CDR claims examiner may not agree that a recipient was ever disabled, unless there is proof of medical improvement in the medical record, disability benefits can't be ceased—except under certain exceptions. For more information, read our article on when you might fail a continuing disability review.
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.
There are other reasons you may lose your disability benefits, 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, 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 are receiving SSI at age 62 but you are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security will apply for those benefits for you.
By Tim Moore, former disaiblity claims examiner
Updated February 5, 2020