Can I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits at Age 64 or 65?

Yes, you can apply for disability benefits until full retirement age.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated 5/12/2023

If you've worked and paid Social Security taxes (FICA or self-employment tax), Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is there to provide income if you become disabled and have to stop working. But can you still get Social Security disability benefits if you're already 64 or 65 years old?

Generally, yes. While you can't apply for SSDI if you've already reached full retirement age—66 or 67 (depending on your birth year)—until that time, you can still apply for SSDI.

And if you meet the medical and non-medical requirements for Social Security disability and you're at least 62, you can collect either SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits (but not both). Here's what you need to know about applying for Social Security disability as you approach retirement age.

Applying for Social Security Disability at Age 65

There's a common misunderstanding that you have to be younger than 65 to collect Social Security disability, but it isn't true. In fact, it can be easier for those over 65 to get disability benefits, thanks to some special rules. For one thing, Social Security's grid rules use age as a factor, generally making it easier for older workers to qualify for disability.

And when you're 65 or older, Social Security examiners and judges must actively look for age-related impairments, such as hearing or memory loss, even if they aren't mentioned on your application. Plus, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is less likely to deny your claim because your condition might not last 12 months, because medical conditions are less likely to resolve themselves quickly after you reach age 65. Learn more about getting SSDI after age 65 but before full retirement age.

You do have to be under full retirement age to collect SSDI benefits. But note that if you have a low income and few assets, you can qualify automatically for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) when you turn 65, without having to prove you're disabled.

Why File for SSDI Before Full Retirement Age?

There are several advantages to applying for disability benefits before you reach full retirement age, even if you're nearing it. And they all boil down to getting a higher benefit amount.

First, the amount you'll receive for SSDI is higher than what you'd get in early retirement. If you can qualify for disability benefits, you can essentially receive your full retirement amount before reaching full retirement age. That's because you'll avoid Social Security's early retirement penalty. For people with disabilities, Social Security disability insurance is like an early retirement program without the penalty for collecting retirement benefits early. (The early retirement penalty lowers your current and future retirement benefits whenever you collect those benefits before age 66 (or 67). If you collect retirement benefits at age 63, for example, Social Security will reduce your retirement benefits by about 20% for the rest of your life.)

Second, the years you've been unable to work due to disability or unable to work at your full potential (and earn a substantial income) won't be included when Social Security calculates your normal retirement benefit. Because your retirement benefits are based on your earnings record, this "disability freeze" can lead to a higher benefit amount (but this happens only if Social Security finds you officially disabled).

Applying for Both Early Retirement and Social Security Disability

Because it can take years to get a decision on disability benefits, some folks apply for early retirement benefits and Social Security disability benefits at the same time. Social Security allows you to collect early retirement benefits while waiting (sometimes up to a year or two) for a decision on your disability application. (Learn more about how long each stage of the Social Security process can take.)

But if Social Security later approves your disability claim, you'll start receiving disability benefits rather than early retirement benefits. (Remember, disability benefits are the same amount as your full retirement benefits would be.)

And if Social Security finds that you were disabled the whole time you were collecting early retirement benefits, you could be paid the difference in benefit amounts for those months. In addition, Social Security won't reduce your future retirement benefits because you collected earlier retirement—because you should have been receiving disability benefits all along.

But there's no guarantee Social Security will find you disabled if you apply for both disability and early retirement. If your SSDI application is denied, you'll be stuck collecting early retirement benefits, and your full retirement age benefit will be permanently reduced due to collecting early retirement.

Of course, if you need the money, you might not have a better option. And you should consider that the closer you are to full retirement age, the less the penalty is. For example, if you claim retirement benefits one year before your full retirement age, the penalty is only 6.67%. At that rate, if your full retirement benefit would have been $1,800 per month, taking early retirement a year early would only reduce your monthly benefit by about $120.

What Happens to Social Security Disability When You Turn 66?

If you're still collecting disability benefits when you reach full retirement age (at 66 or 67), Social Security will automatically convert your benefits to retirement benefits. If your spouse receives benefits based on your work record, your spouse's SSDI benefits will also convert to spousal retirement benefits at the same time.

And the amount you receive each month won't change when you switch from disability to retirement benefits because the amount of SSDI you get is based on your "average indexed monthly earnings" (AIME)—just like your retirement benefits.

Also, Social Security retirement benefits and disability benefits receive the same cost of living adjustment (COLA) each year. So when your disability payments switch to retirement payments, your benefit amount will continue to increase annually with the cost of living. (Learn more about how Social Security COLAs affect disability payments.)

One important thing will change when your SSDI benefits convert to retirement benefits: Your eligibility for Social Security will no longer be based on your medical condition, just your age. So, if your condition improves after your benefits switch from disability to retirement, you won't have to worry about possibly losing your Social Security payments.

How Unemployment and Other Benefits Affect Your Disability Application

You might qualify for other benefits when you can't work because of a disability. But be advised that some of them can affect your Social Security disability application and/or benefits.

Unemployment. If you're collecting unemployment benefits when you apply for SSDI, it could raise an issue with Social Security regarding whether you're actually disabled. Social Security could get the mistaken impression that you're not really disabled, because to get unemployment, you must attest that you're willing and able to work. For more information, see our article on collecting unemployment while you wait for disability benefits.

Workers' compensation. If your debilitating injury or illness is the result of a workplace incident, you'll probably file a claim for workers' compensation. Applying for workers' comp won't affect your Social Security disability application as these programs operate independently from one another and have different criteria for approval.

But while it's possible to collect workers' compensation and SSDI at the same time, Social Security can reduce your disability payment somewhat due to your workers' comp benefit. Learn more about Social Security's "workers' comp offset."

Long-term disability. If you're receiving long-term disability (LTD) insurance benefits, you'll likely be required to apply for SSDI, and if you're approved, your benefits will almost always be offset. But if you qualify for both LTD benefits and Social Security disability, it's your long-term disability that will be reduced based on how much SSDI you receive. Learn more about this offset and how long-term disability works.

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