Q: I have been getting Social Security disability benefits since 2010. I am coming up on my 62nd birthday and would like to know if I can file for regular Social Security and get higher retirement benefits. Also, I have a 14-year-old daughter who is currently getting benefits on my disability record. Will she get higher benefits, too?
A: First of all, you are already getting “regular” Social Security. There is nothing irregular about Social Security disability benefits. I tell people to think of the Social Security disability program as an early retirement benefit that is simply paid to you before you reach retirement age because you have a disabling condition.
And in fact, a Social Security disability benefit pays the same rate as a full retirement age benefit. So, you definitely do not want to switch to a reduced retirement benefit at age 62.
When you reach your full retirement age, you will be automatically converted from the disability program to the retirement program. And because you are already being paid your full retirement rate, the money amount that both you and your daughter get will stay the same. So, the switchover will essentially be transparent to you. What happens behind the scenes is that once you reach your FRA, your benefits will be funded out of the Social Security retirement trust fund instead of the disability fund.
Q: I’m a 50-year-old single woman. I’ve got too many physical problems to list here. I’ll just tell you that fibromyalgia is the main one. I’ve worked most of my life. And I’m still working full time now. But I think I should be getting disability benefits. Can you tell me how I go about filing for those benefits?
A: Well, before I do that, I’ve got to explain something to you. The Social Security disability program is more about the inability to work than it is about your physical or mental impairments. Or to put that another way, you don’t get disability benefits from Social Security because you have a disabling condition. You get benefits because you have a disabling condition that keeps you from working.
So, the fact that you have a full-time job is a pretty good indication that you don’t qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But if your conditions ever get to the point where you have to stop working, then you should file for disability benefits immediately. And if you do so, I suggest you spend 10 bucks and get my little Social Security guidebook called “Social Security — Simple and Smart.” One of the chapters in that book explains the disability program and offers tips on getting your disability application approved. You can get the book at Amazon and other booksellers.
Q: I am 66 and getting my Social Security. My wife is 60. We have a 25-year-old son with learning disabilities and other mental problems. Despite these issues, he has worked on and off since he was 16. But it’s gotten to be too much for him, and he stopped working last year. I filed a claim for him to get “disabled adult child” benefits on my Social Security record, and it was recently turned down. Can you give us any insight into how and why a claim would be denied to someone who is very obviously disabled?
A: Well, once again, I have to start out with the same point made in the answer to the prior question. It is the inability to work that is the key to getting disability benefits. So, if someone works, that could indicate they do not meet the legal definition of disability for Social Security purposes.
I understand that your son isn’t working now. But in order to get “disabled adult child” benefits, you’d have to prove that your son was disabled before age 22. And you said he was working from the age of 16 on. So, his claim might have been denied because the records just didn’t show he was legally disabled before age 22.
Now please bear in mind that I’m just guessing why the claim was denied. You’d have to talk to someone at the Social Security Administration to learn more. And speaking of talking to someone at the SSA, you should definitely file an appeal if you disagree with the first decision you got.
And here is another thing to think about. You said your son has been working since age 16. Assuming he worked at jobs where Social Security taxes were withheld from his paycheck, he is probably eligible for Social Security disability benefits on his own record. And to get those benefits, you don’t have to prove he was disabled before age 22. You just have to prove he is disabled now.
Q: I’ve been getting disability benefits for about five years now. I’m currently 58 years old. I’d like to try working again. But I’m afraid that if I do, they will cut off my disability checks. Do you have any advice?
A: There are all kinds of so-called “work incentives” built into the Social Security disability program. In fact, there are so many, they fill up a 100-page booklet produced by the Social Security Administration that I have on my desk. So, the rules are just too complicated to cover in the space I have here.
In a nutshell, I can tell you that you generally get a 9-month “trial work period,” during which time you can make as much money as you want and still get your Social Security checks. After those 9 months, if you are still working and making more than about $1,350 per month, your benefits might stop.
But as I said, there is WAY more to this topic than that. I suggest you go to www.socialsecurity.gov and do a search for the pamphlet, “Working While Disabled: How We Can Help.” It’s a condensed version of that 100-page book I mentioned earlier.
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