When it comes to Social Security retirement and disability, many people don’t realize both benefits are SSA administered. What that also means is that typically one qualifying individual cannot receive payments from both programs at the same time.
But what if you’re married? Can one spouse’s benefits affect the ability of another to collect? It’s a great question and one we recently received from a reader who asked:
“My spouse receives Social Security retirement payments each month. Will that income affect my application for disability benefits?”
The answer is not a straightforward yes or no. It depends on several variables including age, work record, and type of disability application. Let’s explore these further.
When Might Social Security Retirement Hinder a Disability Benefit Application?
For any individual receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) those benefits automatically become Social Security retirement benefits at age 65+. To be eligible for benefits from either of those programs, however, one must show a qualifying work history. That basically means someone has worked enough over the years to have sufficiently paid into the system.
Whether an individual has a work record or not, however, they may still apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides minimum financial assistance to older adults and disabled individuals (regardless of age) who have very low income/resources. Qualification is entirely based on age/disability and income, not work history.
This differentiation illustrates how an individual could feasibly qualify for both Social Security retirement and SSI with extremely limited income. But they cannot simultaneously qualify for Social Security retirement and SSDI, since the latter transitions into the former.
So back to our reader’s question. We don’t know which type of disability benefits this individual was seeking or if there was any accrued work history. As a result, that complicates the answer. But there are possibilities here.
How Might a Spouse’s Social Security Retirement Prevent a SSDI Claim?
If our reader has a work history and applies for SSDI, then the spouse’s Social Security retirement won’t affect eligibility. This is because the SSA will judge the application solely on the applicant’s own income, work credits, and disability determination.
There is a caveat here, however. If the applicant is also of retirement age and receiving spousal Social Security retirement benefits over $1,350/month, they’re ineligible. Generally spousal benefits are 50% of their mate’s monthly Social Security retirement payment. If that amount exceeds the SSDI limit of $1,350/month, the SSA will reject a disability claim. If it’s less, then they may still qualify.
But ultimately the SSA will only pay the claimant either spousal benefits or SSDI (whichever is higher), not both.
How Might a Spouse’s Social Security Retirement Impact an SSI Disability Claim?
If applying for SSI, then a spouse’s Social Security retirement funds will factor into the household’s overall income calculation. The SSA looks at all sources of income for applicants seeking SSI. This includes both earned and unearned income. If married, then a spouse’s Social Security benefits will enter the calculation as “Deemed Income.” This is the term for any income of a spouse/parent that helps cover an applicant’s living expenses.
Social Security retirement may not lead to an outright SSI disqualification depending on the amount of the spouse’s monthly benefits. But remember this program is for extremely low-income individuals. Applicants cannot have a household income above $1,350/month or have resources worth more than $2,000 single/$3,000 married and receive SSI. This is the upper limit threshold for anyone seeking SSI benefits.
Basically, the more countable income you have, the less your SSI payment will be, if you qualify at all. If your spouse is getting a solid retirement benefit, it will diminish your chances of receiving SSI.
When to Seek Legal Assistance
If you’re thinking of applying for disability and you or your spouse are approaching retirement age, consider consulting an attorney. The reason being that there are also contingencies for early retirement options that may affect your claim as well. A skilled Social Security disability lawyer will know how to maximize your benefits and assess the strength of your application.
The whole labyrinth of Social Security benefits can seem like a complicated puzzle. That’s why it helps to have someone who knows the system well advise you on which path to take.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann