The Social Security disability program is available to all workers who have paid sufficient quarters of Social Security taxes. The program provides monthly benefits to disabled workers who have an illness or injury that prevents them from earning a living. The disability program is limited to workers of a certain age, however, and it's a good idea to acquaint yourself with these rules before considering an application for benefits.
Social Security disability applicants must be at least 18 years of age and have sufficient work credits in order to qualify. For workers up to age 26, Social Security requires that you work at least one-half of the time between age 18 and your present age. The qualifying rules vary for older workers, with older workers needing to work longer periods in order to be eligible. Children under age 18 may apply for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.
Younger workers generally have a more difficult time proving disability to Social Security. The agency takes the position that a younger worker is more capable of retraining, and has more time and ability to heal or eventually overcome any physical disability. If you are granted disability, no matter what your age, Social Security will regularly conduct medical reviews to ensure that you remain incapable of earning more than what is known as the substantial gainful activity amount, which is currently adjudged to be $1,000 per month before taxes.
For workers in their 50s and 60s, Social Security is generally more lenient in applying its guidelines to decide disability claims. The agency recognizes that retraining for a new line of work is more difficult as someone ages and that disabling injuries are harder to overcome. In addition, workers whose past relevant work involves physical labor are more likely to win a claim, as a disability is more likely to prevent them from doing work for which they're qualified.
Disability and Early Retirement
You may apply for disability benefits up to your full retirement age, which varies with your birth year. It is advantageous for a worker to apply for disability, rather than early Social Security retirement benefits, between the age of 62 and the full retirement age. Your disability benefit will be higher than your reduced retirement benefit, and once you are drawing Social Security retirement you are no longer eligible for disability. In addition, Social Security may find that you became disabled before age 62 and pay you back benefits up to 12 months before the day you applied for disability.
Full Retirement Age
If you are drawing disability benefits, those benefits convert to retirement benefits when you reach your full retirement age. They continue at the monthly rate they were set at when you first began drawing disability, which depends on your work record and earnings. You may not apply for retirement as well as disability benefits, and you may not apply for disability benefits after you reach your full retirement age.