When Should You Apply for Disability?

Getting Social Security Disability Benefits After 60
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Social Security Disability Benefits After 60

As people approach their 60s, the prospect of retirement or the need for disability benefits comes into focus. When facing health challenges that impact the ability to work, knowing as much as possible about the Social Security disability process and the special rules that apply to older individuals is crucial. Here’s what might make it easier for people over 60 to qualify for disability benefits, and when should you apply for disability if you are trying to maximize your benefits.

Early Retirement vs. Disability Benefits

When you reach the age of 62, you have the option to take early retirement. While this may seem like an attractive choice, especially if you’re dealing with health issues, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons. Taking early retirement permanently reduces your benefit amount based on the number of months until you reach full retirement age. Depending on how early you retire, you may only receive around 70% of the benefits you would be entitled to at full retirement age.

On the other hand, if you’re approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), your benefit amount will be the same as if you retired at the full retirement age of 67. SSDI benefits are calculated based on your earnings history and the amount of Social Security taxes you’ve paid over the years. Additionally, SSDI provides a “disability freeze,” which disregards any low or zero earning years during your period of disability when calculating your monthly benefit.

While the disability application process can be a little complicated, the potential for higher benefits makes it worthwhile for those who qualify. Consulting with an experienced disability attorney or benefits representative can help you make an informed decision based on your circumstances.

The Impact of Age on Disability Approval Rates

As you approach retirement age, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new skills and transition into new occupations. This understanding is reflected in the higher approval rates for disability applicants over the age of 60.

According to survey statistics, disability approval rates increase with age, rising from 49% for those aged 50-54 to 57% for individuals in the 55-59 age group. Once you reach 60, the approval rates climb even higher, with 62% of applicants between 60 and 65 being approved for benefits.

These higher approval rates are due in part to the special grid rules that come into play for older workers who can no longer perform their past work.

Understanding the Grid Rules for Disability Over 60

The grid rules are a set of guidelines that the SSA uses to determine disability for workers over 50 who can no longer perform their past work. These rules take into account factors such as age, residual functional capacity (RFC), education, and work history.

Your RFC is an assessment of the most physically demanding work you can do on a regular and sustained basis. It’s classified as sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work. If you’re over 60 and limited to sedentary or light work, lack a high school education, and don’t have transferable skills, the grid rules will likely result in a finding of disability.

The SSA classifies education levels into five categories: illiterate, marginal (6th grade or less), limited (7th to 11th grade), high school graduate (including GED), and direct entry to skilled work (such as completing a trade apprenticeship). Recent schooling or training that allows direct entry into skilled work can impact your disability determination under the grid rules.

Your past work experience is also a crucial factor. The SSA considers whether you have transferable skills from your previous jobs. Transferable skills are abilities you’ve acquired that can be used in other occupations. If you’ve primarily performed unskilled work, you’re less likely to have transferable skills, making it easier to qualify for disability under the grid rules.

Applying for Disability After Age 66

While you can apply for disability benefits up until your 67th birthday, it may not always be the most practical choice. Since SSDI benefits convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits at age 67 with the same benefit amount, and the disability application process can take a year or more, it might be simpler to wait until you turn 67 to draw your retirement benefits.

However, if you have a medical condition that qualifies for Social Security’s Compassionate Allowance List, which allows for expedited approval of claims based on very serious or terminal illnesses, applying for disability after age 66 may be beneficial. Compassionate allowance conditions can be approved in as little as a few weeks.

Navigating the Application Process

When you’re ready to apply for disability or early retirement benefits, you have several options:

  1. File online at SSA.gov for SSDI or retirement benefits.
  2. Call 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778), Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  3. Visit your local Social Security field office in person.

Contact Benefits Claim to Learn When Should You Apply for Disability

Deciding between early retirement and disability benefits is a complex decision that depends on your unique circumstances. At Benefits Claim, our representatives can help you navigate the process and determine the best course of action for your situation.

We understand the challenges that come with applying for disability benefits, especially as you approach retirement age. Our team is dedicated to guiding you through the process, from determining your eligibility to gathering the necessary medical evidence and representing you in appeals if needed.

Don’t let the complexity of the disability system overwhelm you. Contact Benefits Claim today to schedule a consultation and learn more about your options for securing the benefits you deserve and learn when should you apply for disability.

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