By Rusty Gloor, National Social Security Advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens
Dear Rusty: My husband turns 65 later this month. He has started having health issues – so much so that we are thinking about talking to his doctor about Social Security Disability. How would this affect him in applying for his Social Security benefits? Should we exhaust disability efforts before applying for his retirement benefits? Signed: Concerned Wife
Dear Concerned Wife: In order to qualify for SS Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, your husband’s disability must be considered total and must be expected to last for at least one year. And that will need to be substantiated by medical evidence from his doctor. So, having a discussion with his doctor is the right first step.
Since SSDI benefits are based upon your husband’s full retirement age (FRA) benefit amount, if he is awarded SS disability it would have no effect on his FRA benefit amount. In fact, if he is awarded SSDI benefits, they will automatically convert to his regular SS retirement benefit (at the same amount) when he reaches his FRA. SSDI benefits are replaced by SS retirement benefits once FRA is attained.
So, should your husband exhaust disability efforts before applying for his SS retirement benefit? Provided that his doctor will support that he is totally disabled and expected to remain so for at least a year, your husband should apply for SSDI online at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability. This will establish a base date which will be used to establish a disability onset date, which is what his SSDI benefit will be based upon if later awarded. You should be aware that it takes several months to receive an initial SSDI determination, and that about 2/3rds of all SSDI applications are denied. But there is an appeals process in place which can be used in the event of an initial denial and if he believes that is an unfair decision.
It is also possible for your husband to claim his personal early SS retirement benefit at the same time he applies for SSDI, so he can get some early SS income flowing while his SSDI application is being considered. Then, if his SSDI is later awarded, his smaller SS retirement benefit (reduced for claiming before his FRA) will be replaced by his higher SSDI benefit, and his higher SSDI amount will automatically become his SS retirement amount when he reaches his FRA. However, if your husband’s SSDI is not awarded, his reduced SS retirement benefit will be his permanent benefit amount (except, of course, for annual Cost of Living Adjustments).
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.