Can I get disability if I’m already getting Social Security?


Q. I’m collecting Social Security but am now disabled. Can I also collect Social Security disability payments?
— Unsure

A. We’re sorry to hear about your disability.

In most cases, you cannot collect Social Security retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) at the same time.

But you may be better off taking the disability payments depending on the timing of your disability and when you started taking Social Security, said Matthew DeFelice, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

The Social Security Administration created the SSDI program to bridge the gap between when someone must leave the workforce due to a disability and when they can draw retirement benefits, he said.

However, some people become disabled after they start taking Social Security, he said.

“If you become disabled after filing early for retirement benefits, you may be able to change to SSDI,” he said. “Similarly, if you retire early but belatedly discover that an existing condition might have qualified you for a higher disability benefit, you may be able claim it retroactively.”

He offered this example. Suppose you started collecting Social Security at 62 for reasons unrelated to health, and you receive a reduced benefit for filing before full retirement age, which is 66 or 67 for people born between 1943 and 1960. Six months later, you suffer a stroke and become disabled. You can then file for SSDI, and if the claim is approved, you will receive a higher benefit backdated to when you applied for disability. You will still not get your full retirement benefit, but the “reduction factor” for early retirement will shrink from 4+ years to just the period when you were only eligible for retirement benefits, he said.

But qualifying for SSDI can be difficult, and it is not uncommon for claims to be denied, DeFelice said.

“Social Security has a strict definition of disability: you are considered disabled when you are no longer able to perform a `substantial’ amount of work as the result of a physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months, or possibly result in death,” he said. “To the Social Security Administration, a substantial amount of work is defined as making $1,350 or more per month, or $2,260 per month for people who are blind, in 2022.”

Additionally, if you have already waited until full retirement age or later to begin taking Social Security and then became disabled, all of the above is a moot point, he said.

There is another exception to the rule.

“While most people cannot collect Social Security retirement and SSDI at the same time to increase your benefits beyond the full retirement amount, there is a program that may allow some individuals to collect additional income,” he said.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Social Security program that helps seniors and those with a disability who have an extremely low income or limited assets.

To qualify for SSI, you need to meet strict income qualifications and have only minimum resources, DeFelice said. The SSA defines “resources” as anything that can be turned into cash, such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, land, personal property or a permanent life insurance policy.

“As far as income limitations, in 2022, individuals must have less than $861 a month and couples must have less than $1,281 a month in unearned income to receive SSI,” he said. “Under this program, your retirement or SSDI checks count as unearned income.”

You also need to meet other financial qualifications to receive these benefits, and the monthly maximum payment you can receive is $861 for individuals and $1,281 for couples, he said.

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This story was originally published on Sept. 7, 2022. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.