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Can I take early retirement at any age if I become disabled?

As workers near their early retirement age of 62 they often wonder if they can begin their early retirement benefits early if they are disabled. We had a user ask on our forum if they could take their early retirement if they are disabled and no longer able to work, even if they were not quite 62. This question seems to indicate the worker does not fully understand that the SSA administers both a disability program (SSDI)and the retirement program, and each have very specific requires; this blog will address this misunderstanding.

Social Security Retirement Benefits

Most workers are aware that if they have worked and earned enough “work credits” that at some point in their life they have the ability to retire and collect monthly cash payments.

Workers may retire without ever becoming “disabled,” but they must wait at least until their early retirement age (age 62). Workers who choose to retire at this age will receive a reduced retirement benefit.

What if you become disabled prior to age 62 and want to start receiving retirement benefits? This is not an option. SSA retirement is not offered to younger workers, regardless of the severity of their health condition.

Disabled and unable to work, what are my options?

If you are less than your early retirement age and you are severely disabled with a health condition which is expected to last for at least 12 continuous months you do have options, but it is not SSA retirement.

The first consideration is whether or not your condition is severe and whether it will last for 12 continuous months. Additionally, you must not be able to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming you meet the requirements outlined above and you have worked and earned enough work credits to be considered “insured” by the SSA, than you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI.

Will it matter that you are less than your full retirement age? No, because SSDI is offered to disabled workers of all ages (who are younger than their FULL retirement age) as long as they are determined disabled and they are insured.

How does SSDI affect SSA retirement benefits?

Another common question asked by disabled workers is, “Will my SSDI payments reduce my SSA retirement benefits?” No, SSDI is a separately funded program and as you receive monthly cash payments you are not deducting money from your future SSA retirement benefits.

Keep in mind, when you reach your full retirement age your SSDI will be automatically converted to retirement benefits. You WILL NOT get both SSDI and SSA retirement simultaneously.

Can I take early retirement if I am 62 and disabled?

Another legitimate concern is whether or not it makes more sense for the disabled worker to apply for SSA EARLY retirement when they reach age 62 but they cannot work or if they should fight to get SSDI benefits. This is a good question. SSA retirement is easier to get and the application process is much less difficult and time-consuming than applying for SSDI benefits but taking a reduced SSA retirement benefit instead of SSDI could lower your monthly cash payment.

Claimants who are in the position identified above need to contact the SSA and find out what their early retirement benefit is and how it compares to their SSDI payments. Many applicants will receive a higher payout under SSDI but must balance whether receiving the additional funds will compensate them for a potentially lengthy waiting period if they are denied SSDI and have to fight months for an approval.