Working While Getting Disability Benefits

By Tom Margenau

February 14, 2018 6 min read

Q: I am 57 years old and getting Social Security disability benefits. I understand I can work and make $46,000 and still keep my disability checks. But how much can I make when I reach age 62?

A: I'm afraid you've really got things mixed up. The $46,000 figure you cite applies to retirees in the year they turn age 66. And nothing is going to change when you turn 62. So let me back up.

The only reason you are getting disability benefits in the first place is because you have been deemed to be unable to work. Or to put that another way, you are not getting Social Security disability just because you have a physical or mental impairment. You are getting those benefits because that impairment keeps you from working. That inability to work is the key to your eligibility for disability benefits.

So, on the one hand, you shouldn't be working at all. On the other hand, there are all kinds of work incentives built into the disability program that allow you to try working while still collecting your disability checks — at least for a while.

Those incentive provisions fill up about a 100-page book that the Social Security Administration produces. So there is no way I can explain all of them to you in this column. But I can summarize the main provisions.

As a general rule, you can work for up to nine months, making as much money as you can, and still keep getting your benefits. However, after those nine months, if you are still working and if you are making more than about $1,200 per month, there is a pretty good chance your disability checks will stop. If you want more information, go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov and under the "Publications" link look for the pamphlet called, "Working While Disabled — How We Can Help." It is an abbreviated version of that 100-page book I mentioned earlier.

Many people getting disability benefits, and apparently you, too, think that something happens with your Social Security checks when you turn age 62. That's wrong. However, when you reach your full retirement age, which would be 67 in your case, you will be automatically switched from the disability program to the retirement program. But the money amount you are getting stays the same; your disability benefit rate equals your full retirement age benefit rate.

What will change once you reach age 67 is your ability to work. At that point, you will be considered a retiree and not a disabled person. And someone at full retirement age can work and earn as much as he or she can without losing any Social Security benefits.

Q: I'm on disability. If I win the lottery, can I keep my disability check?

A: It depends on the kind of disability benefit that you are getting. The Social Security Administration runs two disability programs. So far in this column, we've been dealing with one of them — Social Security disability benefits. The other program is Supplemental Security Income disability. Unlike Social Security, SSI is a welfare program.

So if you are getting Social Security disability benefits, you could win a million dollars in the lottery and you'd still keep getting your disability checks.

But if you are on SSI and you win the lottery, your SSI payments would stop almost immediately.

Q: I am getting SDDI. When can I go on regular SSI?

A: You're mixing up your acronyms, and so, I'm afraid, you're mixing me up, too. As I explained in the prior answer, there are two different disability programs. The Social Security disability program is sometimes known as SSDI. That stands for Social Security disability insurance. And confusingly, the Supplemental Security Income disability program is often shortened into SSID.

And to further complicate this alphabet soup mess, many people think that "SSI" stands for Social Security income. Again, it doesn't. It stands for that federal welfare program called Supplemental Security Income.

So, having explained all that, let me decipher your questions. You said you are getting "SDDI." There is no such thing. My hunch is that you are getting SSDI, or Social Security disability benefits. And then you asked when you can "go on regular SSI." I'm sure you meant to be asking when your disability benefits will be converted to retirement benefits. And as I explained in the previous answer, that will happen automatically when you reach your full retirement age.

Q: I'm on Social Security disability. How do I get a ticket to work?

A: The Ticket to Work program is just one of the many work incentive provisions built into the SSDI and SSID programs. It is way too complicated to explain in this column. And to be honest, I don't fully understand how it works myself. But I can steer you to someone who does. You can call the Ticket to Work hotline at 866-968-7842.

Q: My wife is 60 years old and has been getting a Social Security disability check for many years now. It's only about $850 per month. I turn 66 next month and plan to apply for my retirement benefits then. I am estimated to get $2,640. Can my wife file for spousal benefits on my record?

A: Not quite yet. She has to be 62 years old before she qualifies for spousal benefits. So in a couple years, she can file for dependent wife's benefits on your account. At that age, her disability benefit will be supplemented up to about one-third of your retirement rate.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at [email protected] To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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