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Can you get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you’ve already started your SS benefits?

Yes, you can. But there are some complications.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be a pretty confusing subject, and generally speaking, when someone qualifies for SSDI benefits, they are out of the workplace. And folks who’ve qualified for disability benefits may rejoin the workforce later and resume building a work record for eventual retirement, using options like Ticket-to-Work.

If a worker remains on SSDI until their full retirement age, their disability payment will automatically convert to a retirement benefit, since disability payments are calculated on the same basis as retirement benefits. This means they’re based on the claimant’s work record and the resulting primary insurance amount that has accrued.

But what about someone who has elected to claim retirement benefits before their full retirement age, remain employed, and then becomes disabled? In this case, the disabled individual would receive the calculated SSDI benefit amount until reaching full retirement age. At FRA, then, this benefit will be reduced to account for the months of early retirement benefits received.

Here’s an example: A worker claims benefits at 62 with an FRA of 67 amd the monthly retirement benefit was reduced by 30%, then at age 65 the worker becomes disabled and qualifies for SSDI. The SSDI payment will be larger (since it’s based on FRA) until the worker reaches FRA, at which point the monthly benefit payment will be reduced depending on the number of months between reaching FRA and the beginning of SSDI benefits, in this case 24 months.  

But what about a worker who qualifies for disability benefits before early retirement age and still wants to retire at age 62? In this case, the monthly benefit would continue unaffected. In other words, since the SSDI benefit was determined based on earnings up to the point of disability, and since at FRA the shift to retirement benefits doesn’t change anything, it’s as if the worker received a full retirement benefit from the point of disability forward.

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