But, many people younger than their SSA full retirement age may be eligible for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program after retiring early from the workforce. It does not matter whether the person ever intended to work again. There is a reasonable chance approval if:
- Health problems contributed to the decision to retire early or
- Physical and/or mental problems started or worsened after retirement and
- The worker is insured for the disability program and
- The retiree is not working or is working at levels below SSA’s standards for substantial gainful employment (SGA) and
- The health problems would be disabling for at least 12 months.
How do you get insured for the SSDI program? You pay SS taxes on your wages or self-employment income. For SSDI, you must be both:
- Fully insured: Older workers who accumulate 40 quarters of SS work credits at any time are “fully insured” for SS retirement or disability benefits.
- Currently insured: You must have 20 quarter credits in the last 40 before you become disabled (about 5 years of gainful work in the past 10 years) to be insured for SSDI. If earn enough to get 4 quarter credits in each of 10 years before retirement, you should be eligible for SSDI up to 5 years in the future. Earnings or payments after the retirement year for accrued vacation or severance pay can extend your insured status even more.
SSA calls your Date of Last Insurance for SSDI your “DLI.”
You worked steadily between 1980 and 2010 when you retired at age 55. You have enough quarter credits to be fully and currently insured for SSDI through the end of 2015 when you are 60. Your DLI is December 31, 2015.
In 2012, you’re in a fender bender and hurt your right knee. The arthritis gets so bad you have knee replacement surgery in 2013. You can’t stand, sit or walk for prolonged periods, apply a lot of pressure with your right leg to foot pedals, or climb and stoop well. You have less pain but would not be able to return to your former full time work as a truck driver since your 2012 accident because of your limitations. Your problems have lasted or will last at least 12 months, meeting SSA’s duration requirement for a disabling impairment.
You were insured for the SSDI program when your knee problem started in 2012 because of your pre-retirement SS tax contributions. You can apply for disability benefits starting in 2012 at age 57 with a good chance of success. SSA medical – vocational rules generally favor workers over 50 who can prove they are unable to perform the type of gainful work they did in their last 15 years in the labor force.
If the accident that caused your knee injury occurred on or after January 1, 2016 -- you would have trouble proving you were disabled because you weren’t insured then for SSDI. Your DLI was December 31, 2015. You may have to wait to collect SS retirement benefits-- unless you’re eligible for the Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) based on poverty or Disabled Widows/widower Benefits (DWB) on the SS account of a deceased spouse. Neither program requires you to be insured for SSDI. Your local SSA office or a professional SS disability representative can help you determine if you are eligible for SSI or DWB as well as SSDI.
TIPS for EARLY RETIREES APPLYING for SSDI:
You can contact your SSA office and ask if you are insured for SSDI and when your DLI expires. If your health problems were disabling before your DLI, you can file a claim with some exceptions (see last tip).
If your DLI expired before you file or during the life of the claim:
- Appeal any disability claim denials. You may not be able to reapply for benefits if you fail to timely appeal a post-DLI denial.
- If you ask your doctor to help with a report, make sure the doctor addresses your health and limitations before your DLI expired.
- If you didn’t see a doctor or get a diagnosis before your DLI, ask your doctor to “infer” how long your physical or mental problems likely affected your ability to function based on your history and current findings.
- When SSA sends you forms to report your symptoms and how they affect you, address the period before your DLI expired.
- Statements from family, friends and others in the community about your problems and how they affected you before your DLI can also be used to support a claim.
If you’re close to 62, it can be still be worthwhile to apply for SSDI.
- Benefits are potentially paid up to12 months before your application date.
- You can collect early retirement while pursuing your disability claim if you need the income.
- If you are found disabled, you are no longer penalized for taking early retirement. You get a larger disability benefit that becomes your ongoing monthly benefit amount at full retirement age.
- You will get early entitlement to Medicare after 24 months of SSDI payments.
If you receive SSDI, your earnings record is frozen. Multiple zero earnings years can affect your SS benefit computation. The years you are “disabled” and unable to contribute to the SS will not be counted or reduce your potential SS benefit amount.
If you have been receiving SS early retirement benefits, the financial advantage of an SSDI award lessens as you approach full retirement age. You can ask your local SS office to estimate your potential disability benefit, compare it to your retirement benefit and decide if it is worthwhile to file for disability benefits.
SSA can refuse to take your post-retirement SSDI application if there would be no benefit to your winning. If you -- for example—are 70 years old, it’s likely too late to apply for SSDI even if your disability began before you reached full retirement age. The SSDI program ends at full retirement age, so you couldn’t get current SSDI benefits at age 70. There would be no retroactive payments for the year before your application because that period was after your full retirement age, too. You’d already be eligible for Medicare. SSA would spend manpower and money processing a claim that would not help a contributor to the SSA tax system. There’s no point to filing unless there is an older claim that can be reopened based on technical exceptions or appealed with good cause for late filing.
- Contact a SS representative to find out more information about applying for disability after early retirement. Most representatives offer free, no obligation consults. Post DLI cases can require special care. There is often no option to start a new claim if unfavorable decisions are issued and not timely appealed. Evidence must often address conditions that started years earlier or were not diagnosed until recently. There are also technical loopholes such as good cause for late filing and reopening of prior decisions that may make it possible to revive an unappealed post DLI claim. It can be very difficult or impossible for a claimantto argue that such exceptions apply to his or her case without professional help.