How Long Can You Receive Disability Benefits?

Your Social Security disability benefits will last until you start to work, your condition improves, or you reach retirement age.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law

If you're disabled, you might expect to receive Social Security disability benefits for the rest of your life. But disability doesn't usually last forever.

Social Security disability generally lasts for as long as you're disabled or until you reach retirement age. Then your disability benefits switch over to Social Security retirement benefits. But disability doesn't always last until you retire, either.

There are times when the Social Security Administration (SSA) can stop your benefit payments early—especially if you start working again or your medical condition improves. So you may not be able to collect Social Security disability benefits for as long as you expected.

Common Reasons Why Disability Benefits Don't Last Forever

Qualifying for disability doesn't guarantee you'll receive benefits until you're old enough for retirement benefits. Here are the most common reasons Social Security might terminate your disability benefits before you reach retirement age.

Your Benefits Will End If You Start Earning Too Much

Working can affect your Social Security disability benefits. If you start working or you begin earning too much money, your benefits could stop.

SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are meant to help people who can't work enough to support themselves. So if you can work enough to earn a substantial income—what Social Security calls "substantial gainful activity," or "SGA," it will affect your eligibility to collect disability benefits.

If you begin earning more than $1,550 per month (the SGA amount for 2024), Social Security will eventually suspend your SSDI benefits. If you're blind, you can make up to $2,590 without losing SSDI.

The SGA limits don't apply to SSI recipients, but if you work while receiving SSI benefits, you'll need to stay under the SSI income limits. And Social Security will reduce your SSI payments any month you make over $85 in income.

Even if you stay under the SGA limit or SSI income limit, Social Security might see your work as evidence that your condition has improved. But the agency has programs that will allow you to try working for a period of time without the risk of losing your 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 disability benefits.)

Your Benefits Could End If Your Medical Condition Improves

Social Security will stop your disability benefits if your medical condition improves enough that you no longer qualify as disabled. When you're receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits, Social Security will periodically review your case to determine whether or not your condition still qualifies you for disability payments. This type of review is known as a CDR, or continuing disability review.

How Often Do Continuing Disability Reviews Happen?

You can expect a CDR every three or seven years—depending on your condition. In rare cases, reviews are conducted once a year. (You'll probably only face yearly reviews if, when you were first approved for benefits, Social Security noted there was reason to believe your condition might improve in the near future.)

What Are the Chances Your Benefits Will Be Cut Off After a CDR?

If your medical records don't show medical improvement, your disability benefits should continue. In most cases, it's difficult for Social Security to find there's been enough medical improvement to expect the disability recipient to return to work. Only about 15% of CDRs result in someone's disability benefits ending.

If your disability application was approved by an administrative law judge (ALJ) after an appeal hearing rather than at the initial claim or the reconsideration appeal level, you might have an easier time keeping your benefits after a CDR. ALJs have more flexibility in deciding claims. And that can sometimes make it harder for a Social Security claim examiner to determine whether there's been any medical improvement since your benefits were granted.

What If a CDR Examiner Doesn't Agree You're Disabled?

Even though a CDR claims examiner might not agree that you were ever disabled, unless they can point to proof of medical improvement in your medical record, they can't stop your disability benefit payments—with a few specific exceptions. For more information, read our article on when you might fail a continuing disability review.

Other Reasons Your Benefits Can Be Discontinued

The above situations are the most common reasons Social Security might terminate your disability benefits before you retire. But there are other reasons your benefits could end early.

Failing to Report Changes to Social Security

When you're collecting disability benefits, you're required to report certain changes to Social Security. When you're receiving SSDI, you need to report the following:

  • changes to your medical condition
  • if you start collecting other disability benefits (like workers' compensation)
  • if you start or stop working, and
  • changes to your earned income.

If you're getting SSI benefits, in addition to the above items, you must also report the following:

  • an increase in your assets (like an inheritance)
  • changes to your spouse's income and resources
  • changes to your living arrangements
  • if you get married or divorced, and
  • other changes that could affect your eligibility.

If you try to keep your benefits by not reporting these changes to Social Security, you might lose your benefits and have to repay disability overpayments.

Leaving the Country

You might lose your disability benefits in some less common situations as well. Leaving the country can affect your benefits, depending on several factors, including:

  • whether you receive SSDI or SSI
  • what country you go to
  • how long you'll be abroad, and
  • whether you're a citizen of the United States or another country.

Learn more about how going abroad can affect your disability benefits.

Being Incarcerated

Although being convicted of a crime usually won't cause your disability benefits to end, being sent to prison generally will. If you're incarcerated, Social Security can suspend your benefits until you're released. Learn more about how going to jail affects SSI and SSDI benefits.

(Get more details on what can cause your SSDI or SSI benefits to stop.)

Death of the Beneficiary

When someone receiving SSDI dies, Social Security won't pay disability benefits for the month the person died. For example, if the person collecting benefits dies on February 25th, the check (or direct deposit) received in February must be sent back to Social Security.

But certain family members of the deceased SSDI recipient might be eligible for survivors benefits. (Note that survivors benefits aren't available to the family members of people receiving SSI when they died.)

What Happens to Your Disability Benefits at Retirement Age?

Once you've been awarded Social Security disability, there's a good chance you'll keep receiving benefits until you reach retirement age. At retirement age, you can continue to receive monthly benefits, but the type of benefits you get will change depending on what kind of benefit you've been getting.

If you've been collecting SSDI, your monthly payments will switch to Social Security retirement income. And if you've been receiving SSI disability, when you reach retirement age, 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 (whether or not you want to apply for early retirement benefits). The amount of your retirement benefit will be deducted from your SSI payment.

The same isn't true for SSDI—you can continue to get SSDI benefits until you reach full retirement age (66 or 67).

(Learn more about how turning 62 can affect your disability benefits.)

How Long Do Children's Disability Benefits Last?

Children with disabilities whose families meet the income and asset requirements of the SSI program can usually receive SSI benefits until they're 18. When children turn 18 while still in high school, they remain eligible for SSI until they graduate 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—called an "age 18 redetermination." Social Security conducts this review because disabilities are assessed differently for children and adults.

If the child meets Social Security's definition of "disability" for adults, the child can continue receiving SSI benefits or might be able to start receiving SSDI benefits as a disabled adult child (if a parent is covered under Social Security).

Getting Help If You Lose Your Disability Benefits

Social Security disability benefits provide the income you need when you can no longer work because of a disability. And you were no doubt counting on those benefits continuing until you retire. So, what can you do if your SSDI or SSI has been cut off? A disability attorney might be able to help you get your benefits restarted after they've been terminated. Learn more about hiring a disability lawyer.

Updated December 12, 2023

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