To learn how age impacts Social Security disability benefits, it helps to understand the eligibility criteria and the programs available.
How The Social Security Administration Defines Disability
When the SSA reviews your claim for disability benefits, the key factor is whether or not you are able to work to support yourself and provide for your family. This is the basis for how the SSA defines total disability, which is the only type of disability allowed under the program. Neither partial nor short-term disability meet the criteria. The SSA expects that people will be prepared for such emergencies through short-term disability insurance, workers’ compensation or personal savings. The determination of total disability hinges on whether or not you can perform the same work as before, if the work can be adjusted to accommodate the condition, and the projected duration of the disability.
SSI vs. SSDI
There are two types of disability programs administered by the SSA: Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. To be eligible for SSDI, the applicant needs to have worked and earned enough credits to qualify for disability benefits. Credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. This is different than SSI, a program where the applicant must demonstrate a financial need in addition to meeting the disability criteria. Those below age 19 would apply for SSI because children would not have yet accrued credits for working.
Disability and Retirement Benefits at Age 62
If you are in the SSDI program when you turn 62, you do not need to be concerned about removal from the program due to age. This is because the SSA assumes that if you had the capacity to perform your job, you would have worked until your full retirement age (FRA). Full retirement age (FRA) may be anywhere between age 66 and 67, depending on your year of birth. This works in your favor because nothing changes until you reach FRA. At that point, you will automatically be moved from SSDI to the full retirement program.
If you become disabled at age 62, you are permitted to apply for both early retirement, which is about 75% of the benefit of full retirement, in addition to SSDI. While awaiting SSDI approval, you can collect early retirement benefits. If SSDI is approved, you are permitted to collect Social Security benefits from both SSDI and the early retirement program until you reach FRA at which point you are moved into the full retirement program. However, if you become disabled at FRA, 66 for example, an application for SSDI would be declined. Stacking full retirement on top of SSDI is not permitted.
In the case of SSI, you may be eligible to start collecting early retirement benefits at age 62 if you have enough work credits. However, that income may be taken into account in determining if eligibility for SSI still applies because SSI is based on financial need.
To apply for Social Security benefits, there are advantages to using the online application versus going to the Social Security office in person. This is easily done on the official government SSA website. There you will also find answers to frequently asked questions.
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