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Social Security Disability Rules After Age 50

Workers of any age who become disabled may be able to qualify for monthly cash payments from the federal government. However, people older than 50 may find it easier to be declared disabled and eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is similar to but separate from regular Social Security benefits, which are based on age, work history and paying taxes into the Social Security fund. SSI is for people who, because of a change in health, can’t do the work they formerly did. For more help navigating Social Security and SSI, consider working with a financial advisor.

Size of Disability Payments

Depending on the recipient’s age, SSI benefits can be higher than Social Security for a worker who is eligible for Social Security benefits. That’s because the amount of an SSI disability payment is typically the same as the Social Security benefit that would be paid when the recipient has reached full retirement age.

Full retirement is reached between 66 and 67, depending on the recipient’s year of birth. Social Security benefits normally can be claimed as early as age 62. However, when claiming before full retirement age, the benefit is reduced. So for a worker aged 62 to that worker’s full retirement age between 66 and 67, an approved disability claim would pay more.

Being approved for SSI disability also brings with it other advantages. In most states, that includes Medicaid to help pay for medical bills. Many states also offer food assistance and some provide additional supplemental payments to some SSI recipients.

Disability Eligibility Basics

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Unlike Social Security benefits, which may be available to individuals and family members of people over age 62 who have worked for enough years and paid into the Social Security fund, anybody can become eligible for SSI. SSI isn’t funded by Social Security payroll taxes, although it’s also run by the Social Security Administration, and SSI eligibility doesn’t depend on the work record of the recipient or one of the recipient’s family members.

However, to be eligible for SSI, workers have to have limited income and resources, and be disabled, blind or at least 65 years old. Many conditions can potentially qualify someone to receive disability payments. They include physical injuries like herniated disks and carpal tunnel syndrome as well as illnesses such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Mental illnesses, like anxiety, can also justify being declared disabled under the program’s guidelines.

The key factor in qualifying as disabled is the ability to perform a wide range of work-related tasks and activities. These include sitting as well as lifting and kneeling in addition to climbing ladders as well as others.

Environmental conditions such as noise, temperature extremes, dust and heights can also play a role. Difficulty seeing, hearing, speaking, concentrating, remembering instructions and interacting appropriately with colleagues and supervisors may also underlie an approved disability claim.

Effect of Age on Disability Eligibility

Social Security examines whether a disability claimant’s condition would interfere with being able to do the sort of work the person has done for pay over the previous 15 years. If the examiners decide the person could still do the work he or she was doing, that is grounds to deny the disability claim.

However, the evaluation also looks at whether the claimant could adjust to doing other types of work. The evaluation looks at, among other things, the person’s age. The evaluation gives more weight to age for claimants older than 55, and has a separate set of rules for people who are over 60.

Age isn’t the only factor in deciding whether someone could do different work. The severity of the impairment, education background and extent of previous work experience are also considered. However, generally speaking, if a person under 50 has similar impairments, education and experience as someone over age 50, the older person is more likely to be declared disabled and eligible to receive benefits.

Another less critical restriction applies to people over 65. After that age, people can’t apply for disability online. Instead they can call to make an appointment at their local Social Security office to apply. The number to call is 800-772-1213. The Social Security website has an online tool to look up local offices by ZIP code.

Bottom Line

Social Security Disability Rules After Age 50

Supplemental Security Income disability is available, potentially, to anyone regardless of age or work history. However, applicants age 50 and over are more likely to be approved because the Social Security Administration considers older applicants to be less able to adapt to doing similar work. Because disability payments can be larger than Social Security payments, disabled people from age 62 to approximately age 66 may be able to get more money more easily than people who are younger.

Retirement Planning Tips

  • Disability benefits can be an important part of funding a secure retirement, and a financial advisor can help you determine what else you can to do ensure comfort in retirement. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • If you have access to a workplace retirement plan like a 401(k), make sure you use it! No matter what your health is like in retirement, you’ll want to have personal savings as well.

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Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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