Can a Retired Person Also Collect Social Security Disability?

Social Security disability insurance is really a form of early retirement benefits, so you can't receive both at the same time.

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Congress created Social Security's disability insurance program (SSDI) as a partner to the retirement program, to provide disability benefits to those who are too ill or injured to work but too young to retire. Initially, the program was only for workers between 50 and 65 years of age, but today anyone who is between the ages of 18 and 66 can apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Can You Get Retirement and Disability at the Same Time?

You can't receive Social Security retirement benefits and disability benefits at the same time (with one small exception, which we'll discuss below). SSDI bridges the gap between a paycheck and retirement benefits. In this sense, Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) can be thought of as a retirement benefit for those who are forced to retire early. So you can't collect both benefits at once.

If you do start to collect SSDI disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will convert them to retirement benefits when you reach full retirement age (67 for those born in 1960 or later).

Can You Switch From Early Retirement Benefits to Disability Benefits?

If you file for early retirement benefits between ages 62 and 65 and then you become disabled, you can apply for SSDI benefits. If the SSA approves you, the agency will switch your payments from retirement benefits to disability benefits (since you can't receive Social Security and disability at the same time). The same is true if, after you claim early retirement benefits, you find out that you could have been getting disability benefits for an existing medical condition, rather than receiving early retirement benefits.

Does Social Security Pay You More for the Months You Were Disabled?

Your disability benefit will be higher than the early retirement benefit you were receiving, because Social Security reduces early retirement benefits. In certain circumstances, you can get retroactive disability benefits for the time you were disabled, to make up for missing those higher payments.

Here's how Social Security will pay you, depending on when you become disabled.

Disabled before early retirement benefits start. Say you were getting a reduced retirement benefit for a period of time (because you had claimed retirement benefits early, before full retirement age), and then Social Security approved your application for disability benefits, agreeing that your disability began before you started receiving early retirement benefits.

Social Security will start paying you disability benefits, which are roughly equal to the amount you'd receive at full retirement. But Social Security will also make up the difference between the early retirement amount and the full disability benefit for the months you were disabled but receiving early retirement benefits (for up to 12 months). In this sense, you would be receiving both an early retirement benefit and a disability benefit, to bring you up to your full disability benefit for the months you were disabled (this is the exception we referred to above).

In addition, when you reach full retirement age, Social Security will pay you your full retirement benefit as if you had never opted to collect early retirement payments. Here's a detailed example of someone who switched from early retirement to disability benefits because of loss of hearing.

Disabled after early retirement benefits start. Some people collect early retirement benefits for a period of time before their disability begins. In that case, Social Security doesn't pay them the difference between the disability payment and the early retirement payment for the months they were collecting retirement benefits but weren't disabled.

Also, Social Security will continue to pay them a reduced retirement benefit for the rest of their life, since they filed an early retirement claim. But, the "reduction factor" won't be as high, since they should have been paid disability benefits for part of the time they received early retirement benefits. (Social Security reduces retirement benefits by a reduction factor of 6.67% per year for each year early retirement benefits are received.)

Of course, if Social Security denies your disability claim outright, you would continue to receive early retirement payments at the same early retirement rate for the rest of your life.

Filing for Disability and Social Security at the Same Time

Some people who quit work at age 62 purposefully apply for disability and file for early retirement benefits at the same time, so that the early retirement payments fill the gap until the disability payments start. But, remember that there is no guarantee you'll be granted disability benefits, and you could be stuck collecting less than your full retirement rate for the rest of your life. Still, this can work for those people who are severely impaired and are certain that they will get disability benefits. Getting disability benefits for those over 60 is easier than for younger folks, and Social Security gives special consideration to those over 65.

If you're considering applying for disability and Social Security at the same time, consider talking to a disability lawyer, who can help you assess your financial options and your chances of winning disability benefits.

Will I Get a Disability Freeze If I Switch to Disability Benefits?

During the months you were disabled but collecting retirement benefits, Social Security would apply the disability freeze, which means that your lack of income due to disability would not be counted when calculating your Social Security retirement payment from your earnings record. The freeze can help increase the benefit you'll eventually receive at full retirement age.

Social Security will apply the freeze beginning at the start of your disability until the month before you reach full retirement age.

Can You Receive Retirement Benefits and SSI Disability Payments at the Same Time?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that could allow you to collect additional income while you're drawing Social Security retirement benefits.

To qualify for SSI and retirement benefits at the same time, your income (including Social Security) must be less than $841 per month, which is the current SSI monthly payment amount. (See our article on the SSI income limit for more information on the way Social Security calculates your income.) The SSI program also has asset limits, which apply to cash you have in the bank but not your house and a car. And, of course, you must be disabled. The SSI program uses the same definition of disability as the SSDI program.

If your retirement income and assets are low enough to qualify for SSI, you can receive both retirement and disability benefits at once.

Updated May 18, 2022

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