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SSA retirement or SSDI benefits which do I apply for?

Many claimants have gotten to the point in their life where they are unable to work or perform what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls substantial gainful activity. But what do you do if you are 62 years of age? Can you apply for both SSA retirement and SSDI? Do you apply for retirement first and then disability? Recently on our forum we had an applicant ask, “Do you think I should apply for my Social Security retirement first then Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if I'm eligible?”

Who can apply for SSA retirement benefits?

The normal retirement age for SSA retirement benefits was 65 years of age for many years, but this has changed. Now, the age has been increased for claimants who were born after 1938 until it reaches a maximum of 67 for claimants born after 1959.Workers may also choose to retire at age 62, whether they are disabled or not, but they will have their benefits reduced by as much as 30%.

Who can apply for SSDI benefits?

Workers who are disabled with a severe health condition which is so severe they are unable to work for 12 continuous months and who have worked, paid employment taxes and earned sufficient work credits to be insured for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may apply for SSDI benefits. There is one additional caveat. Workers must be below their full retirement age to qualify for SSDI. So below we will look at two different scenarios to address the applicant’s question.

1.    Less than your full retirement age

If the claimants is less than their full retirement age (but at least 62 years of age) and they are severely disabled they may choose to either apply for SSDI benefits or SSA early retirement benefits, but they must choose one or the other. A disabled applicant will not receive both SSDI and SSA retirement benefits at the same time.

If they decide to apply for SSDI their SSDI payment may be more than their SSA early retirement benefit, but it could take months to be approved and they are likely to be denied the first time they apply and may have to appeal their denial decision. Unlike SSA retirement, SSDI is not an entitlement program and getting benefits, even though you have “paid into the system” is not guaranteed.

SSDI recipients will get Medicare 24 months after the date of their disability so you could end up getting Medicare a little younger than age 65 if you are approved for SSDI.

2.    Greater than your full retirement age

If you are greater than your full retirement age, even if you are severely disabled, you will only qualify for SSA retirement benefits. Even if you applied for SSDI and received benefits prior to your full retirement age if you are getting SSDI when you reach your full retirement age these benefits are automatically converted to SSA retirement benefits. You will not get both benefits at the same time.

So do I apply for SSA early retirement benefits or SSDI?

Before making the decision about what types of benefits to apply for you should talk to the SSA and consider the following:

1)    What is your SSDI benefit payment and would it be more than your SSA early retirement payout?

2)    How long can you wait for your benefits?
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