An emotional elderly.

If you are approaching retirement age and are considering or receiving disability benefits, you may wonder, “how does disability affect social security retirement?” Choosing to file for early retirement when you could qualify for disability benefits may be costly to you in the long run. On the contrary, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits won’t reduce your retirement benefits when you reach full retirement age. Read on to find out critical information on retirement and disability benefits and how they affect each other.

What’s the Difference Between Disability and Retirement?

Retirement and disability benefits have similarities. The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers both benefits. Both are designed to offer financial assistance to people who can’t work. Mathematically speaking, the agency calculates them the same way, as both are based on your covered earnings record.

Here are the differences between the two types of benefits:


SSDI disability benefits provide cash benefits to people with mental or physical health conditions that prevent them from working and doing any substantial gainful activity (SGA). The condition should have already lasted one year, or be expected to last at least one year or lead to the individual’s death.

To qualify for SSDI, you should also have paid Social Security taxes through your earnings, worked long and recently enough, and earned the required number of work credits. The number of work credits needed depends on a person’s age at the time of his or her disability.

SSDI claims are often rejected. They require a high standard of proof. For that reason, it’s crucial to hire a disability lawyer for SSDI benefits to maximize your chances of success.

Social Security retirement benefits are monthly payments offered to people who have worked, earned enough credits, and paid federal taxes, thus contributing to the Social Security system. You are eligible to start receiving retirement benefits once you reach age 62.

The amount of retirement benefit you receive depends on factors like:

  • The amount of money you made
  • How long you have worked
  • If you take early retirement after reaching age 62 or choose to continue working

You will get a higher monthly benefit if you choose to work past 62 until your full retirement age. Your full retirement age depends on when you were born. The full retirement age for people born in 1954 or earlier is 66. The age rises incrementally by a few months for individuals born from 1955 to 1959. Those born in 1960 or later have a full retirement age of 67.


Once you qualify for disability benefits, they will continue until you hit full retirement age, or your disability improves. When you start getting retirement benefits, they continue for the rest of your life.

How Does Disability Affect Social Security Retirement Benefits?

Below, you’ll find more information on the impact that retirement and disability benefits have on each other, as well as tips you can use to manage your benefits better and avoid costly mistakes.

Can I Receive Social Security Disability and Retirement Benefits?

With just a few exceptions, you usually can’t collect retirement and Social Security disability benefits at once. When you claim SSDI benefits, the SSA sets the benefits as though you had attained full retirement age. SSDI is essentially a form of retirement benefit. Therefore, you can’t receive both benefits concurrently. Moreover, SSDI benefits are supposed to be collected by people who can’t work because of an illness or injury. Collection of retirement benefits implies that you’re already not working anymore.

An exception that could allow you to collect disability and retirement benefits is if you opt for early retirement for health reasons and later become approved for disability benefits due to a disabling condition that started before you began collecting early retirement. The SSA will begin paying you disability benefits instead of early retirement benefits. Additionally, the agency will pay you the difference between your monthly disability benefit and early retirement amount for the months you received the early retirement payments.

In that case, you would receive both a disability benefit and retirement benefit to get you to the full disability benefit amount to which you were entitled during those months you were disabled, but the disability benefits had not been approved. However, the SSA will require you to provide sufficient evidence to prove that you left work due to your disabling illness or injury.

Suppose you stopped working and decided to claim early retirement benefits at 62 because of eyesight problems. Your doctor diagnoses you with macular degeneration, an eye problem that may qualify you for SSDI benefits. If you file for SSDI and your claim is approved, and you prove the disabling condition started before you took early retirement, the SSA will retroactively pay you up to 12 months the difference between the amount you have gotten so far in early retirement benefits and the amount you would have received under SSDI.

It’s possible to qualify for both SSI and retirement benefits. You can use the SSI to get additional income while collecting retirement benefits. However, the SSI program has income and asset limits. Therefore, you may only receive both SSI and retirement benefits if your countable income, including Social Security benefits, is below the limit allowable to qualify for SSI.

How to Decide Whether to Apply for Disability Benefits or Retire Early

If you are over 60 and have a disabling condition, you may be torn between taking early retirement and applying for disability benefits until you reach full retirement age.

The disability application process is generally more laborious and time-consuming than the processing of retirement benefits. As a result, some people in their early 60s with qualifying conditions may choose to claim early retirement benefits and avoid the hassle of applying for disability. However, this strategy could cost you money.

In most cases, people get more if they receive SSDI benefits than they do when retiring early. People turning 62 in 2022 and choosing to file for retirement benefits at 62 – 60 months earlier than their full retirement age of 67 – can only receive 70% of their full retirement benefits. Their monthly retirement benefits will be permanently reduced by 30%. That means you would have to sacrifice 30% of the monthly benefits you would get if you waited until age 67, or more than 30% of additional benefits if you waited until age 70, to start collecting benefits.

On the other hand, when you start receiving SSDI, you get what you would receive if you chose to draw your benefits at your full retirement age. Therefore, your SSDI benefits are likely to be higher than your early retirement payments.

When you collect disability benefits until your full retirement age, your retirement benefits aren’t reduced permanently. The SSA applies a disability freeze, meaning the lack of income caused by the disability won’t be included in calculating your full retirement benefit from your record of earnings. The freeze may help you increase the full retirement benefit you will eventually get.

Disability benefits are more flexible than early retirement benefits, particularly if there is a chance your disability will improve. You could even try out Social Security disability work programs to see if you can transition back to work without risking losing your disability benefits. Choosing disability benefits instead of early retirement will allow the benefit you will get at full retirement age to continue growing.

Applying for Both Benefits Simultaneously

Some people who are turning 62 and have significant health challenges may apply for retirement and disability benefits simultaneously. They do so to have Social Security income to rely on as they wait for the SSA’s decision on their claim for SSDI benefits. If successful, they will receive a higher payment than the early retirement benefits, as well as retroactive payments.

This strategy may work for severely impaired people. Nevertheless, it’s highly risky. Early retirement successfully fills the gap between disability application and approval in very few cases. Being granted disability benefits is not guaranteed. If you use the strategy and your application for disability benefits isn’t approved, you’ll be stuck receiving retirement benefits at a lower rate than your full retirement rate.

It’s advisable to consult a knowledgeable Social Security disability attorney and financial advisor before pursuing this strategy. A skilled attorney will help you optimize your situation by making you thoroughly understand all your options. He or she will help you weigh your options, including your likelihood of winning disability benefits, and advise you on the options that best suit your needs and retirement goals. In addition, an attorney will help you gather important evidence to file a strong disability application and appeal an SSD denial.

What Happens to My Disability Benefits When I Retire?

If you are still collecting SSDI benefits when you reach your eligible full retirement age, the SSA will automatically convert your SSDI payment to your Social Security retirement benefit. You won’t have to take extra steps for the conversion to happen.

For most beneficiaries, the monthly benefit remains the same after the conversion. That’s because when you file for SSDI, the SSA calculates the benefit as though you were already at full retirement age. At full retirement age, you qualify for 100% of your benefit amount, which depends on your lifetime earnings.

In some cases, an individual may receive a higher benefit amount after reaching full retirement age. Worker’s compensation and public disability benefits from government jobs for which the recipients didn’t pay Social Security taxes can reduce SSDI payments. If you were receiving such payments that reduced your actual SSDI payment amount, your monthly check amount would increase when you attain full retirement age as the reduction will end.