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A Guide to Changing from Social Security Retirement Benefits to Disability Benefits

You may be able to switch your retirement benefits to disability benefits under certain circumstances. For example, if you become disabled after filing for retirement benefits early, you might be able to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). If you chose early retirement but afterward discovered an existing condition that may have made you eligible for higher disability benefits, you may be able to claim the benefit retroactively.

Generally, your circumstances may permit this switch from Social Security retirement benefits to SSDI. However, consulting with a disability attorney in your state will help answer more questions regarding your situation, as every person has a unique work history, retirement scenario, and disability claim.

Claiming both Social Security and Disability Benefits

Most disability beneficiaries who claim SSDI before retiring have their benefit calculated as if they were at full retirement age (FRA). FRA means you qualify for 100 percent of the benefit amount based on your lifetime earnings. Once you reach full retirement age, the SSA will swap your benefit from SSDI to traditional retirement benefits. This happens automatically, so there is no break in benefits.

An exception exists if, along with SSDI, you receive workers’ compensation or any public disability benefit from a government job where you did not pay any Social Security taxes. These additional benefits may reduce your SSDI payment amount. This reduction ends when you hit FRA, increasing your Social Security benefit amount.

While SSDI payments are based on FRA, spousal benefits paid to a husband or wife on your record are not. The amount is permanently reduced if your spouse claims benefits before their FRA.

In another example, if you began receiving your reduced Social Security benefits at 62 for retirement while healthy and you are diagnosed with kidney disease six months after, you may file for SSDI. If your claim is approved, you will get a higher benefit, and the claim will be backdated to when you applied for disability. Though you will still not receive full retirement benefits, the decreased amount for early retirement for four-plus years will reduce to the period when you only qualified for retirement benefits.

There are many scenarios regarding what can happen when switching to benefits that provide a higher payment. The Social Security Administration processes retirement claims fairly quickly, while disability claims can take months, even years, to finalize.

As a result, some people turning 62 with significant health challenges apply for both benefits concurrently. This strategy allows you to receive Social Security income as you await your SSDI claim’s decision.

Strategic Risks

Ultimately disability claims have a high standard of proof, and most first-time applications are rejected. Your reduced retirement benefit could be permanent if you lose on further SSDI appeals. A disability lawyer can review your situation and make recommendations before making decisions and acting, preventing you from losing a higher benefit.

There are calculated risks involved, assuming you can qualify for SSDI and switch to receive a disability payment equal to or near your full retirement age.

Key Takeaways

  • Other factors may contribute to how the Social Security Administration calculates changes to your benefit amount when switching from retirement to disability benefits. In discussing with the SSA how switching benefits will affect you, you are entitled to legal representation. It is to your advantage to have a disability lawyer represent your interests.
  • Retirement benefits calculations take into account your 35 highest earning years. However, people on disability typically have much less time in the workforce. In this instance, your SSDI benefit determination uses inflation-adjusted average earnings from age 21 until you become disabled.
  • The full retirement age depends on the year you were born. If you file for both early retirement and disability benefits and the SSA determines you didn’t become disabled until after you began receiving early retirement benefits, you won’t receive retroactive payments. Your early retirement benefits then convert to your SSDI benefit amount.

Getting Help with Your Disability Claim

Decision-making regarding the timing of your retirement can be difficult and more complex when experiencing a challenging medical issue that interferes with your ability to work. Many people know the general circumstances surrounding retirement benefits but often overlook strategies that include filing for SSDI benefits concurrently or switching from retirement to disability benefits. A disability attorney can identify the strategy that works best in your situation to provide you with the highest benefit payment due you.

If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our New York office or New Jersey office at 732-972-1600. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

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