It’s possible to switch from Social Security retirement benefits to disability benefits. However, switching from one type of benefit to the other will likely not increase your monthly payment unless you have taken early retirement.
What Is the Difference Between Retirement Benefits and Disability Benefits?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays retirement benefits to workers who contributed to the Social Security system via taxes on their wages or self-employment income. Workers who paid into Social Security can start receiving benefits as early as age 62. However, the amount of monthly benefits will be reduced if you start to collect retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age.
Disability benefits provide payments to individuals who cannot earn a substantial income because of an injury, illness, or physical disability. The SSA oversees two separate disability programs:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides payments to individuals with qualifying disabilities who have extremely limited income and financial resources.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides a safety net for workers who have contributed to Social Security. Disabled workers with qualifying conditions can get SSDI if they have enough recently earned work credits (usually 20 credits or five years of work).
What Is the Average Payment?
According to the SSA, the average disability payment across both SSI and SSDI was around $1,234 per month at the start of 2019. This is just enough to keep recipients above the poverty line. Both SSI and SSDI recipients cannot receive benefits if they can perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) by working. The 2022 monthly SGA amount is $1,350.
Retirement benefits vary depending on the amount of your Social Security contributions and your retirement age. According to the SSA’s 2022 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Fact Sheet, the maximum amount a retired person can receive in Social Security is $3,345 per month. However, the SSA reports the average payment is around $1,658 per month.
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When Is It Advantageous To Switch from Retirement Benefits to Disability Benefits?
If you retired at your full retirement age, your monthly Social Security payments will not increase and you cannot switch from retirement benefits to disability benefits. This is because your SSDI payments are equal to the Social Security benefits you would get at full retirement age. But, if you took early retirement, switching to SSDI may increase your payments.
As mentioned, you can retire as early as age 62. However, if you do, the SSA will reduce your monthly retirement benefits by around 20 percent. Therefore, if you become disabled after taking early retirement, switching to SSDI, which pays your full retirement amount, will increase your payments.
Additionally, if you switch from early retirement benefits to SSDI, you may be eligible for retroactive benefits starting with the date of the onset of your disability. This may be especially beneficial if a qualifying illness or injury led you to take early retirement in the first place.
Do You Qualify for Disability Benefits?
To switch from Social Security retirement benefits to disability benefits, you must have a qualifying condition. The Blue Book lists eligible conditions and medical criteria. They include but are not limited to:
- Chronic heart failure
- Hearing and vision impairments
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Chronic respiratory disorders
- Endocrine disorders
- Immune system disorders
- Mental disorders
How Do You Apply for Disability Benefits?
You must complete the appropriate application and prove that you have a disability that prevents you from performing work-related activities for at least 12 months. This will require answering a lot of questions about your disability, work history, and wages.
You will need to supply the SSA with:
- Your birth certificate (or proof of United States citizenship if you weren’t born in the U.S.)
- A completed Adult Disability Report
- Pay stubs
- Award letters, settlement agreements, or proof of workers’ compensation benefits
- Medical records
- Doctors’ reports
- Laboratory test results
- Diagnostic imaging results (such as MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays)
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What If the SSA Denies Your Disability Application?
Filing for benefits can be complicated, and many individuals seeking SSDI find themselves faced with denials. If you find yourself in this situation, you can file an appeal. The appeals process begins with a request for reconsideration of your initial application. From there, it could move on to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), an Appeals Council review, or even a civil court action.
Working through an appeal is even more complex than an initial filing, and the process may involve questioning witnesses or submitting new medical evidence. An attorney with our firm can review your disability application and represent you in any appeals proceedings.
Contact Berger and Green for Help with Your Social Security Benefits
We have a successful track record of helping clients across Pennsylvania and Ohio secure Social Security Disability benefits. If you want assistance evaluating your initial application, want a lawyer to help with your appeal, or have questions about switching your benefits, reach out to our team today.