I meet with many individuals that are between the age of 62-65, and do not realize that they are able to pursue Social Security Early Retirement benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at the same time. These individuals normally assume that these programs are mutually exclusive, and that a decision has to be made to pursue one program or the other. In fact, the Social Security Administration will let individuals apply for both programs simultaneously.
There are some important reasons why individuals that are eligible for early retirement should consider applying for both programs; however, it is also important to know that there can be a negative impact on your Social Security payments if you are ultimately found not disabled.
What Happens when I Accept Early Retirement from Social Security?
When you elect to receive your Social Security Retirement at age 62 you are receiving a 25% reduction in your retirement benefit if you were born between 1943 and 1954. [See Social Security Administrationâ€™s Retirement Benefits by Year of Birth Page for reduction based on other years of birth.] This is a permanent reduction if you elect to start retirement at age 62. This means that if your full retirement benefit at 66 would be $1,000 per month, you will only receive $750 per month (for the rest of your life) if you retire early.
How Does Disability Impact My Early Retirement?
The exception to this lifelong reduction is if the Social Security Administration determines you are disabled at some point before you reach full retirement age. If you are found to be eligible for Social Security Disability and your payments start retroactively prior to the date you actually began receiving reduced retirement, your early retirement application is effectively withdrawn. The Social Security Administration will pay you the difference between your reduced retirement and your full Social Security benefit for each month that you have already been paid, and you will receive your full payment for each month going forward.
For example, let us assume that an individual named John Smith was born on January 1, 1948. He turned 62 on January 1, 2010. John stopped working because of his health condition on May 2, 2009. Since he was unable to work, he applied for early retirement on January 1, 2010 when he turned 62. Johnâ€™s full retirement rate is $1,000, but since he elected early retirement at 62, he is only entitled to $750 per month in retirement benefits. [If John is found disabled, he receives payment at his full Social Security rate of $1,000 per month]
Now since John has the necessary quarters of coverage for retirement, he is eligible to begin retirement benefits immediately when he turned 62. John is informed that he can also apply for disability since he stopped working because of a medical impairment that prevented him from continuing to perform work. John applies for Social Security Disability Insurance and alleges that his disability began on May 2, 2009.
The Social Security Administration determines on June 6, 2010 that John is disabled, and that his disability began on May 2, 2009. John is entitled to start disability payments in November 2009. He has already received early retirement benefits from January 2010 until May 2010. Since he was found disabled, he is entitled to his full Social Security rate of $1,000 per month. The Social Security Administration will pay John $1,000 for November and December 2009, and will pay him $250 per month from January 2010 until May 2010 (since he already received $750 per month from early retirement). His early retirement benefits will stop effective June 2010, and John will receive only his disability check of $1,000 per month going forward.
Since John was found entitled to Disability benefits prior to the date that his early retirement began, there is no reduction in his Disability payment. Even when John turns 66, he will continue to receive his full Social Security rate as long as he remained disabled until he turned 66. The benefit to John is that he received payments from January 2010 until May 2010 while he was waiting for his disability application to be decided. This would be important to John, because otherwise he would have no income during that period.
It is important to remember that if the individual in the example above had not been approved for Social Security Disability Insurance, he would have received the reduced retirement rate for the rest of his life. Individuals that are eligible to begin Early Retirement and apply for Disability should always remember that there is no guarantee that they will be approved for Disability benefits. If you do not want to risk receiving reduced retirement benefits for the rest of your life, then you should simply apply for Disability benefits if you are between the age of 62-65.
The second warning is that the Social Security Administration could determine that your disability began at a later date. If John had not been found disabled until May 2, 2010, his disability benefits would not begin until November 2010. Since he began retirement payments in January 2010, there would have been 10 months that he only received early retirement benefits. John would begin receiving disability benefits in November 2010, but his disability payment amount would be reduced by the number of months he already received early retirement. When John turns 66, he would have a permanent 10-month reduction on his retirement benefits.
In other words, when he turned 66, the Social Security Administration would pay John at a rate as if he had retired at age 65 and 2 months. For an individual born in 1948, starting benefits at age 65 and 2 months would result in a permanent reduction of 5.6%. Johnâ€™s disability benefit and his retirement rate at age 66 would then be reduced to $944 per month. [Please see the Social Security Administrationâ€™s Retirement Benefits by Year of Birth Page for information about early retirement reduction rates based on year that you were born. See POMS RS 00615.110 for more information about benefit reductions when entitled to both Social Security Retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits.]
What to Remember
It is important to understand what your options are if you are eligible to apply for both disability and early retirement. Prior to pursuing both retirement and disability benefits, it is normally a good idea to speak with someone that has knowledge of the interaction between the two programs. If you decide to proceed without the assistance of an attorney, ask the Social Security Administration to run through scenarios with you of what will happen if you are found disabled on the date that you stopped working, but also if you are not found disabled until a later date, or if you are never found disabled.
It is also normally a good idea to consult with a financial planner when deciding how to proceed with early retirement benefits. A financial planner will be able to review the positive and negative consequences of receiving retirement payments at reduced rate.
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner atLinarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. Steven offers free initial consultations for Social Security Disability/SSI claims. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please use the Linarducci & Butler Contact Form or call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.