When Seniors Become Disabled

By Tom Margenau

November 30, 2016 7 min read

Q: I was going to file for my Social Security retirement in a few years. But I'm wondering if I should file for disability instead. I have all sorts of medical problems too numerous to mention in this email. What should I do?

A: You didn't give your age and you didn't tell me if you are still working. Knowing that information is key to answering your question. If you are still working, then you're not eligible for Social Security disability. To qualify for such benefits, the law says you must be unable to work. So if you are working, that means you are not disabled according to Social Security law. But I will assume you are not working and then deal with the issue of your age.

If you are 66 or older, you can forget about Social Security disability. Once you reach that age, disability benefits are no longer payable. To put that another way, a retirement benefit pays the same rate as a disability benefit for people over age 66.

If you are still under age 62, then you're too young for Social Security retirement. But you definitely should file for Social Security disability. If you are over 62, you should file for retirement and disability benefits at the same time. They can start your retirement payments right away. Then if your disability claim is eventually approved, they will switch you to the higher disability rate.

Q: I just turned 64 years old. I filed for Social Security retirement on my 62nd birthday. I've had some major health problems lately. Is it too late to file for disability benefits?

A: It's not too late. But don't expect a big boost in your monthly Social Security checks if your disability claim is approved.

Because you took reduced retirement at age 62, you are currently getting 75 percent of your full rate. A disability benefit normally pays an amount equal to your age 66 full retirement rate. But from that amount, they must deduct roughly one-half of one percent for every month you've already received a Social Security retirement check.

It sounds like you've already received about 24 monthly Social Security checks — meaning your disability benefit must be reduced by 12 percent. So if your disability claim is approved, instead of getting the full retirement rate of 100 percent, you would get about 88 percent. Still, that is better than the 75 percent reduced retirement rate that you are currently getting.

Other retirement beneficiaries a little older than the one who sent this email but still under age 66 should note that they would eventually reach a point where they simply gain little or nothing by filing for Social Security disability.

Here's an example. Sam filed for retirement benefits at age 62, so he is getting the 75 percent rate. At age 65 and 6 months, he had a heart attack. If he files for disability benefits and if his claim is approved, his regular disability rate, again equal to his full age 66 benefit, must be reduced by about one-half of one percent for each month he's received a retirement benefit. At age 65 and a half, he's already received 42 retirement checks, so his disability rate must be cut by about 21 percent. So instead of a 100 percent disability rate, he'd get about 79 percent. Sam would have to decide if it is worth all the hassle of filing for disability just to get bumped up from his current 75 percent rate to 79 percent.

And again: Once you are over age 66, there is absolutely no financial advantage to filing for Social Security disability benefits.

Q: I am about to turn 65. I have been getting disability benefits since I was 58 years old. When will I be able to get my real Social Security? And will I get more money?

A: You are getting "real Social Security." Disability benefits are just as real as retirement benefits. So you will never be switched from "unreal" Social Security to "real" Social Security.

But I know what you were really asking. You are wondering when you will be switched to Social Security retirement benefits. And that will happen when you turn 66. At that age, you will be automatically converted to the retirement program.

However, your benefit amount will stay the same. That's because a Social Security disability benefit pays the same rate as an age 66 retirement benefit, so the changeover will essentially be transparent to you. What happens is primarily an internal government bookkeeping transaction. When you reach age 66, your benefits will start being paid from the retirement trust fund and not from the disability fund.

Q: I am getting SSI disability because they said I didn't work enough to get Social Security disability. I am about to turn 62. I got a letter from Social Security telling me they are going to force me to file for my retirement benefits and that will cut me off of SSI and Medicaid. Can they do that?

A: Yes they can. And I will explain to my other readers what is going on. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have worked and paid taxes for five out of the last 10 years. So when you were told you "didn't work enough to get Social Security disability," what they meant is that you didn't have enough recent work to meet that disability eligibility factor.

But the eligibility rules for retirement don't include that "recent work" requirement. To get retirement benefits, you simply need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a total of 10 years, anytime during your lifetime.

And because the Supplemental Security Income program is welfare, it works like any welfare program in that it is supposed to be a payment of last resort. In other words, you must file for any other benefits you are due before they can pay you an SSI check. So that is why you must file for your retirement benefits. And if those benefits exceed your SSI rate, you will lose your SSI payments. But you may be able to keep your Medicaid benefits. You will have to check with your local welfare or social services offices about that.

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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