Published on: October 11, 2016
Applying for disability after retirement can be tough. There are numerous regulatory hurdles to get through in a disability claim under normal circumstances—such as verifying your work history and whether or not your condition qualifies for disability.
If you’re approaching retirement age and become disabled, it may be better for you to apply for disability benefits rather than taking early retirement benefits.
There are a few things you’ll probably want to know before you apply for disability in retirement, including:
1: Disability Benefits Transition into Retirement Benefits at Full Retirement Age
If you’re on disability, when you reach retirement age, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA will switch you from disability benefits to retirement benefits.
As noted in the SSA’s What You Need to Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits online handbook: When you reach full retirement age “if you’re receiving Social Security disability benefits, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.”
2: You Won’t Be Able to Delay Retirement for the Increase to the Standard Retirement Benefit
As pointed out earlier, the conversion from disability income to the standard retirement benefit is automatic once you reach full retirement age. This will prevent you from being able to delay when you start collecting on your retirement benefits for the increased income (called "Delayed Retirement Credits").
However, this is usually preferable, in most cases, to taking the early retirement option, since taking early retirement applies a reduction factor to your benefits.
3: Using Disability Grants You a Disability Freeze for Calculating Your Social Security Income
Normally, when you retire, your monthly Social Security benefit is based on your lifetime earnings, and any years where you had low or no income can bring this amount down. This work history assessment is a key part of your disability income calculation.
However, if you were on disability during your years of low or no income, then they will be disregarded in your work history assessment. This “disability freeze” helps you avoid losing retirement income because of years where you couldn’t work.
Note: you need to have been on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) to benefit from the freeze. If you were disabled, but didn’t apply for disability, then you cannot benefit from the freeze retroactively.
4: Your Work and Education History Can Affect Your Eligibility for Disability
When the SSA makes a ruling on disability benefits for persons over 60, some workers might have an easier time qualifying than others based on their work and education history, as well as their residual functional capacity (RFC).
If the majority of your career was spent performing “arduous unskilled physical labor,” or work that is primarily based on your strength without needing any specialized training that could be transferred to less physically-demanding work, then your likelihood of being approved for disability is better.
On the other hand, workers with skills that could be transferred to light or sedentary work may have a much harder time getting approved for disability. In some cases, having a high school diploma/GED is enough to be considered not disabled under the SSA’s rules because of the skills that diploma indicates; which may allow you to work a light or sedentary job within your RFC.
It’s not impossible to get approved; it’s just harder to get a quick approval without having to file an appeal.
If you’re confused about any aspect of applying for disability, please contact a skilled disability expert as soon as possible. Disability experts can help you work out what you need to apply for disability, and support you throughout the process.