Many people who retire early because of health problems in their 50s and early 60s may be eligible for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. You can receive SSDI benefits even if you already get a company retirement benefit, long-term disability payments, or worker's compensation benefits. But you can't draw retirement benefits from Social Security and SSDI at the same time (learn more here).
You have a reasonable chance of approval for disability benefits if your health problems contributed to your decision to retire early. If you had trouble working full time because of a serious medical condition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) could find that you are disabled and eligible for benefits.
When you apply, the SSA will require that you:
Even if your health problems started or worsened after retirement, you're allowed to apply for SSDI benefits up until your full retirement age, which is between 66 and 67, depending on the year you were born.
Only workers who have paid Social Security taxes on their wages or self-employment income over a number of years are eligible for benefits from the SSDI program. Older workers (60 and older) who have accumulated 40 quarters of work credits (representing a full 10 years of work) are "fully insured" for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. But 50-year-olds need only have 7 years of work credits to be insured for disability benefits.
However, you have to be "currently insured" as well. Social Security's rule is that you must have worked at least 5 of the last 10 years to stay insured. The SSA calls your "date last insured" your "DLI." If you worked your whole life but then only worked 4 of the last 10 years, because you quit or took early retirement 6 years ago, you're no longer insured for SSDI.
You need to apply for disability benefits before your DLI, or, if you apply later, you at least need to have evidence that your disability existed before your DLI (more on this below).
You can contact the SSA office and ask if you are insured for SSDI and when your DLI expires.
Yes, as long as you are under full retirement age and your date last insured hasn't passed, you can get SSDI benefits long after you retire. Let's continue the example from above, where you have a DLI of December 31, 2022.
Learn more about the work credits required for SSDI.
You don't have to apply for SSDI benefits before your DLI; you just have to become disabled before your DLI. If your disability started well before you apply, it may be harder to prove, but not at all impossible.
If your DLI happened well before you file your claim, you can take the following steps to help prove your disability:
Even if you're close to age 62, it can still be worthwhile to apply for SSDI. Here's why:
What is the disability freeze? When you retire early, multiple zero earnings years can negatively affect your Social Security retirement benefit computation. But if you are disabled and approved for SSDI, your earnings record is frozen. Thanks to the disability freeze, the years you are disabled and unable to contribute to Social Security will not reduce your potential Social Security benefit amount. Essentially, the SSA excludes from its benefit calculations any zero-income or low-income quarters of earnings from a period of disability. For more information, read our article on the disability freeze.
And if you're wondering what to do, learn more about retiring early vs. applying for disability benefits.
Updated July 12, 2023