What Can Cause Your Social Security Disability Benefits to Stop?

Changes in your income, health, or living arrangement can lead to a termination of your Social Security disability or SSI benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Most people who get approved for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability will continue to receive their monthly benefits for years to come. But there are certain situations that can cause your Social Security disability benefits to be suspended or even terminated.

Whether you're applying for SSDI or SSI disability, or you're currently receiving benefits, it's important to be aware of the circumstances that could cause Social Security to stop paying your disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Benefits: SSDI vs. SSI

SSDI and SSI disability are two separate programs operated by the Social Security Administration (SSA). What can cause your benefits to stop differs between the two disability benefit programs. So let's take a brief look at the two programs.

To be eligible for SSDI, you must have paid enough in Social Security taxes (FICA or self-employment taxes). If you haven't worked long enough, or recent enough, to have sufficient "work credits," you aren't eligible for SSDI regardless of your disability.

SSI, on the other hand, is a needs-based (low-income) program. It isn't necessary to have paid Social Security taxes, or to have even worked, to be eligible for SSI. However, Social Security places strict limits on the amount of income or assets that you can have and still qualify for SSI benefits.

Why Would Social Security Stop My SSDI Benefits?

The most common reason your SSDI benefits might stop is that you've returned to work. While in some cases it's possible to work while continuing to receive SSDI payments, you have to follow specific rules to avoid losing your benefits. And there are other situations that can cause Social Security to stop your SSDI benefits.

Returning to Work While on SSDI

If you return to work while receiving SSDI benefits, Social Security will determine if you're "engaging in substantial gainful activity" (SGA). Basically, that means working more than a few hours a week. The biggest factor in determining if work activity qualifies as SGA is the amount you're paid for your work.

In 2024, someone is generally considered to be engaging in SGA if they earn more than $1,550 a month ($2,590 for blind SSDI recipients). For example, if you're making, say, $200 per week doing part-time work, you wouldn't be working over the SGA limit.

But this isn't a cut-and-dried issue. If you're working a lot, it's possible for Social Security to determine that your job activity counts as SGA even if you're earning less than the SGA amount.

One exception to the SGA rule is what's referred to as a "trial work period" (TWP). You can try returning to work without automatically losing your SSDI eligibility under a trial work period. In most cases, you can work for up to nine months during your TWP without causing your SSDI benefits to stop, regardless of how much money you're making.

At the end of your TWP, if you're still working and making over the SGA limit, Social Security will no longer consider you disabled, and your SSDI benefits will stop. But they might not stop right away. Learn more about the trial work period and the "extended period of eligibility."

Reaching Retirement Age While on SSDI

You can't receive both Social Security disability benefits and Social Security retirement benefits at the same time. If you're getting SSDI when you reach full retirement age (between 66 and 67 years old), your disability benefits will stop.

But that doesn't mean you won't continue to get Social Security. If you're getting SSDI when you reach full retirement age, Social Security will automatically switch your disability payments to retirement benefits. And the amount remains the same.

Being Incarcerated or Institutionalized While on SSDI

If you're in a prison or another penal institution after being convicted of a crime, your disability benefits will stop while you're in jail. Your SSDI benefits will be suspended after you've been in prison for 30 days (unless you participate in a rehabilitation program) and will be reinstated the month following your release.

In addition, sometimes a felony conviction can cause your benefits to be stopped even if you don't go to jail. But being convicted of a misdemeanor won't affect your SSDI benefits unless you're sent to jail for a month or more. Learn more about how being convicted of a crime affects your disability benefits.

When Social Security Might Stop Dependents Benefits

If you're receiving dependents benefits based on someone else's earnings record, certain changes in your life can cause your benefits to stop, such as:

  • getting married (under certain circumstances)
  • turning 18 (19 if still in high school), or
  • changing your living arrangements.

For example, if your parent receives SSDI and you're receiving benefits based on their work record, your benefits will generally end if you turn 18 or get married—with some exceptions if you're also disabled. (Learn more about SSDI for disabled adult children.)

Note that if you collect SSDI benefits based on your own work history and earnings record, getting married won't affect your benefits (unlike SSI).

When Can My SSI Benefits Be Stopped?

The most common reason for someone to lose SSI benefits is having too much income—whether through working or some other source.

Going Above the SSI Income or Asset Limits

If you're receiving SSI and, for any reason, your income or assets rise above the SSI eligibility limit, Social Security will stop your benefits. In 2024, the individual income limit for SSI is $943 per month, and the asset limit is $2,000. While you should be aware of these limits, determining whether you're over the SSI income limit can be a complex issue due to a number of factors.

Increase in income. If you begin receiving an income from any source (for example, a private pension or alimony payments) that puts you over the income limit, your SSI benefits could stop (or get reduced). But not all income is counted in the same way. Social Security treats "earned income" (from working) and "unearned income" (from things like alimony or unemployment benefits) differently.

For example, more than half of your earnings from work won't count toward the SSI limit. For the details, see our article on what Social Security counts as income.

Free food or shelter. Social Security considers food and shelter that's provided to you by someone else as income (called "in-kind income.") If you begin to receive housing or food from someone else for free, Social Security will count it as income. This in-kind income will reduce your SSI payment by one-third.

But Social Security won't reduce your SSI benefits if someone else pays for your utilities. Learn more about how in-kind income affects your SSI benefits.

Your spouse's income. A portion of a spouse's income is considered to be "deemed" to SSI recipients—meaning it's counted as income when determining SSI eligibility. This could mean that, if you're granted SSI benefits while you're unmarried, your benefits could stop if you marry someone who's earning an income.

The same is true if you were approved for SSI while your spouse wasn't working (or was earning very little). If your spouse later starts working or has an increase in income, your SSI benefits could be stopped. Learn more about how your spouse's income affects your SSI eligibility.

Your parents' income. When a child collects SSI benefits, if one or both of the child's parents has income, some of that income is deemed to the child. If the parents earn too much, the child could lose SSI eligibility. To learn more, see our article on family income deeming.

Increase in assets. Receiving resources, such as an extra vehicle or a small gift of cash, can be risky. If you see an increase in the total amount of your assets that brings you above the resource limit ($2,000), your SSI benefits could end.

Again, determining your assets can be complex because some resources don't count toward the SSI asset limit. For instance, your home and, in most cases, one vehicle aren't counted as assets.

How Returning to Work Affects SSI Benefits

Your SSI benefits will stop if you return to work and Social Security finds you're no longer disabled. Note that trial work periods aren't available under the SSI program, but SSI does have a Ticket to Work Program with work incentives. Learn more about SSI's Ticket to Work program.

When Children Receiving SSI Turn 18

Children who are getting SSI will have their condition reevaluated at age 18 to determine whether they're still eligible for disability benefits. This redetermination is based on Social Security's adult SSI disability standards.

The way Social Security assesses disability in children and adults is similar, but there are some significant differences. Sometimes this can cause a child's benefits to stop after turning 18. Learn more about age 18 redeterminations for children getting SSI.

Changes in Living Situation and Your SSI Benefits

Changes in your living situation—that is, whom you live with and where you live—can affect your SSI eligibility. For instance, if you enter or leave an institution such as a nursing home or halfway house, this will affect your eligibility for SSI benefits.

If you move in with friends or relatives and they pay for your room and board, your SSI payments will be lowered. And, if you leave the U.S. for 30 days or more, your SSI benefits will stop. Learn more about how living abroad affects your Social Security benefits.

Medical Improvement Can Stop Both SSDI and SSI

Social Security's rules regarding the effect of medical improvement on your disability benefits are the same for SSDI and SSI.

If your disabling medical or mental/psychiatric condition(s) improve, Social Security can find that you're no longer disabled and stop paying your benefits. You can expect Social Security to periodically review your case (usually every three or seven years) to determine whether you're still disabled.

Social Security must meet tough standards in these "continuing disability reviews" if they determine that you've improved enough to return to work. Most disability beneficiaries (about 85%) continue to receive benefits after a review. Learn more about continuing disability reviews.

Failure to Respond Can Stop Social Security Benefits

To continue receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits, Social Security must be able to reach you, and you must respond to the SSA's requests. For instance, if Social Security asks for additional medical (or other) evidence and you fail to respond or fail to provide the requested documents, your disability benefits could be suspended.

Likewise, your SSDI or SSI benefits will be stopped if:

  • Social Security can't locate you, and
  • your benefit checks have been returned by the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Your benefit payments might be reinstated if you provide Social Security with a valid, new address. But, if your disability benefits are suspended for 12 consecutive months because you failed to comply with Social Security's request for information or otherwise failed to cooperate, your SSDI or SSI will be terminated.

Also, if Social Security learns that you've knowingly withheld information or misrepresented the facts regarding your disability claim, you could lose your disability benefits.

Learn more about getting Social Security disability benefits—including how to apply for SSDI and SSI and what to do if your benefits are stopped or denied.

Updated December 12, 2023

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