I just turned 62 and have been on SSI disability for 15 years. I receive $771 a month. Social Security says I have to apply for "early retirement" benefits now and can't wait until I reach "full retirement" at age 66. If I do this, my early retirement benefits will only be $600 a month. Is this accurate? I'd rather not apply for Social Security benefits yet since I know that applying early will lower my benefits.
It sounds like you didn't qualify for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits but you do qualify for retirement benefits. This can happen when someone didn't work recently enough in relation to when they filed for disability, but they did work enough years in the past to qualify for a small retirement benefit. (The work requirements are different for SSDI and retirement benefits.)
In this case, the disability recipient is stuck with collecting only SSI disability until they turn 62. After they turn 62, they become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.
Can Social Security force you to take early retirement? I'm afraid the Social Security Administration (SSA) is right. One requirement of continuing to receive SSI benefits is that the SSI recipient has to apply for any other cash benefits that are available, and this includes Social Security retirement benefits. So you will have to start collecting your early retirement benefit at age 62, even though your retirement benefit would be larger if you were able to wait until full retirement age, which in your case is 66.
How will your SSI payment change at age 62? The good news is that you'll be able to receive both Social Security retirement and SSI at the same time, so your overall monthly benefit won't decrease. You'll just receive a combination of the two benefits. You should receive $600 as the retirement benefit and $171 as the SSI benefit (roughly).
How does this affect your retirement benefit? The bad news is that claiming your retirement benefit at age 62 will lower your Social Security benefit permanently. This won't matter much if you stay on SSI, since you'll continue to receive the same combined SSI/retirement amount. (And once you reach age 65, you can continue to receive SSI as an elderly person rather than a disabled person.) But if at some point you no longer qualify for SSI, you'll be stuck with the $600 Social Security payment.
What about people who are receiving both SSDI and SSI when they turn 62? For those who are currently receiving both SSI and Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), here's what happens. When these "dual beneficiaries" turn 62, they'll continue to receive SSDI until full retirement age, at which time the SSDI will convert to Social Security retirement. (SSDI and retirement benefits are roughly the same amount.) In other words, SSDI recipients aren't forced to apply for early retirement benefits, so their lifetime retirement benefit isn't decreased.
What if you apply for SSI at age 62? Whenever you apply for SSI, Social Security considers your application to be an application for Social Security benefits as well. So if you apply for SSI at age 62, the SSA will check to see if you're eligible for SSDI or retirement benefits. If you are, Social Security will pay you those benefits first, and if you're still eligible for SSI (because your Social Security payments are low), then the agency will approve SSI benefits as well, up to the maximum SSI amount.
Updated December 7, 2022