THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY AND SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT

A question I often hear is “what is the relationship between Social Security disability and Social Security retirement?”

One way to think about Social Security disability – that is, Title II benefits not Title XVI benefits or supplemental security income (“SSI”) – is that it is basically “retirement now.” In other words, the money you receive for Social Security disability is in fact the same money you would receive for your normal retirement had you been the requisite age ( i.e., 65, 66, 66 & 10 months, etc.) at the time you became disabled. Another way to look at it is that we are pretending that your disability date is your retirement date. Indeed, you can draw Social Security disability until your retirement age. At that time, Social Security disability is converted over to Social Security retirement – but it’s really only a name change, the money stays the same. Along those same lines, I also get asked whether someone can draw early Social Security retirement benefits while also receiving Social Security disability (again, Title II benefits). The answer is yes, though with a qualification. Early Social Security retirement benefits, also called Age 62 retirement benefits, are about 80% of full retirement benefits. If you draw age 62 benefits the amount will never be increased – even after you reach your normal retirement age. However, if an individual drawing age 62 benefits applies for and receives Social Security disability – what they are getting is, in effect, the other 20% or full retirement benefits. Finally, prospective clients also frequently inquire as to what disability actually “means.” While this is a topic I’ve addressed in other blogs, I’ll briefly reiterate my answer here. Contrary to what most people think, “disability” does not mean someone has to be nearly dead, comatose or otherwise unable to get out of bed. “Disabled” really means “unreliable” to work in a competitive employment environment because of either a physical or mental impairment. In terms of physical disability, unreliable means that a person’s pain, fatigue or side effects from a prescribed medication regimen affect them in unpredictable ways such that they can’t work consistently during a normal work week. In terms of mental disability, unreliable means a person’s concentration, memory or ability to deal with stress is impaired to the level where they’re no longer reliable to perform tasks in a normal work week.