Note: We updated this article with the latest info from Social Security in April 2022. Hitting your full retirement age often signifies a lot of life changes. And if you’re receiving Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, it can be even trickier to navigate. How long does the Social Security Administration (SSA) send SSDI payments after your claim’s approved? Are they permanent, or do the last only until you reach a certain cut-off age? Or do SSDI payments automatically convert into regular Social Security benefits?
Usually, the biggest concern if you’re getting monthly SSDI payments is whether or not you’ll still have income after 66. Rest assured that even though your benefits might change, the SSA won’t leave you without income assistance or medical care.
Do SSDI Payments Automatically Convert to Social Security Retirement Benefits?
It’s true — SSDI payments do convert to regular Social Security benefits once you reach your full retirement age. Most people will barely notice any change in their usual monthly income. You’ll still get a monthly check and don’t need to complete any paperwork once you’ve reached full retirement age. The SSA will automatically switch your SSDI payments to retirement benefits after your birthday’s passed. The tricky thing is knowing when you technically “reach” that full retirement age, which depends entirely on your birth year.
Most people think of 65 as “retirement age,” but benefits don’t automatically transfer then — unless you were born before 1937. Americans born after 1937 don’t automatically reach retirement age on their 65th birthday, so their benefits transfer sometime after that. Here’s how to calculate when your benefits will transfer from SSDI payments to retirement income, based on your birth year:
- 1938 – 65 years and 2 months
- 1939 – 65 years and 4 months
- 1940 – 65 years and 6 months
- 1941 – 65 years and 8 months
- 1942 – 65 years and 10 months
- 1943-1954 – 66 years
- 1955 – 66 years and 2 months
- 1956 – 66 years and 4 months
- 1957 – 66 years and 6 months
- 1958 – 66 years and 8 months
- 1959 – 66 years and 10 months
- 1960 and beyond – 67 years
Social Security Retirement Benefits Don’t Have Income Limitations
The biggest difference between SSDI payments and retirement benefits is that you’ll no longer have to limit your monthly earnings. To qualify for SSDI payments in 2022, you can’t make more than $1,350 per month ($2,260 if you’re blind). Once you reach full retirement age, you can increase your monthly earnings and still keep your regular Social Security benefits. Some people accomplish this by taking a part-time job or another source of income (renting a room, investment dividends, alimony payments). Once you switch from SSDI payments to retirement, you don’t need to report your earnings to the SSA anymore. Any extra money that you earn will have no impact on the amount of retirement benefits you receive each month.
Will My Benefit Amount Change After Reaching Full Retirement Age?
Absolutely not! Your monthly check will remain the same after you transition from SSDI payments to retirement benefits. The SSA calculates payments for both programs on how much Social Security tax you had withheld throughout your work history. Your benefit amount always stays same — the only thing that changes is your monthly earning threshold.
How Does Early Retirement Impact SSDI Payments?
Anyone who isn’t 66 or 67 yet may consider taking early retirement instead of applying for SSDI payments. Because the claims process is complicated and not everyone can qualify, some individuals feel early retirement is the better option. Other people think there’s some stigma associated with accepting disability benefits at all, regardless of your mental or physical condition. If you’re considering collecting Social Security retirement benefits before you’re technically eligible, be aware that it includes some significant drawbacks.
The most important issue with taking early retirement instead of SSDI is that your benefit amount is permanently reduced. The total amount you’ll get depends on how many months you have left before reaching full retirement age. Ultimately, if you opt for early retirement, you’re giving up the chance to receive your full benefit amount going forward. This could mean losing 35% of your Social Security benefit amount for life if you start drawing at 62 and your normal retirement age is 67.
If you qualify for SSDI payments, your check is the same amount you’ll receive upon reaching full retirement age. Bear in mind, though, that not everyone can qualify for SSDI. If you’re interested in applying for SSDI, remember that it’s easier to get your claim approved once you turn 50. Part of the SSA’s disability review process includes “grid rules” (see tables here) that decide whether a person is disabled. Claimants over 60 may have an even easier time getting the SSA to approve their disability claims. That’s because older workers can have a hard time learning new job skills and/or transitioning into different careers. They may also have a lower capacity for doing physical labor, or need additional education to re-enter the workforce successfully. If you have a college degree and can perform mostly low-impact work duties, you may not qualify for SSDI payments.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Still on the fence about whether early retirement or applying for SSDI is the right choice for you? Speak to a disability advocate or attorney about each option’s pros and cons, based on your age and medical condition. A Social Security attorney can nearly triple your odds of winning SSDI payments. Attorneys can also explain how big a cut you’ll take by retiring early, plus ways to make ends meet until you reach full retirement age. Navigating your transition into Social Security retirement doesn’t have to be scary. While it does signify some big changes in life, there are always people willing to help you get through it.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.