Can Your Disability Benefits Be Taken Away?

Social Security rarely terminates disability benefits due to medical improvement, but you can lose your SSDI or SSI benefits because of other factors, like income.

By , Contributing Author
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Although it's rare, there are circumstances under which the Social Security Administration (SSA) can end your disability benefits. Let's take a look at the most common reasons Social Security could take away your disability benefits.

When a Continuing Disability Review Can End Your Benefits

At some point, your disability case will likely undergo a continuing disability review (CDR). The SSA conducts a CDR to see if you still meet the eligibility requirements for disability or if your condition has improved so much that you can return to work.

Timing of Continuing Disability Reviews

CDRs usually happen about every three years. If you're over the age of 50, or if your medical condition is unlikely to ever improve, a CDR might happen only every seven years.

If your disability claim was approved after a disability hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who approved your claim might think it's likely that your condition will get better. In that case, the ALJ can require that your case be reviewed sooner than three years and will include this requirement in the written decision.

Once a CDR is scheduled, your case is sent to your local Disability Determination Service (DDS) agency. DDS will look over any new medical evidence in your case and may send you to be examined by a Social Security doctor (called a "consultative examination").

Review Standard for Stopping Benefits

Adult CDRs. If you're an adult, the SSA can take away your disability benefits only if the evidence shows that:

  • you've had medical improvement, as it relates to your ability to work, and
  • you can now engage in "substantial gainful activity" (SGA), defined as earning $1,350 per month (in 2022) from working.

Child CDRs. A child recipient can also undergo a continuing disability review, but a child's claim is reviewed differently than an adult's. A child's benefits will be discontinued if:

  • there has been medical improvement, and
  • the child's impairment(s) no longer results in "marked" or "severe" functional limitations.

A child's benefits can also end if the child has failed to follow prescribed treatment, the child's location is unknown, or in a case involving fraud or failure to cooperate.

(Learn more about how continuing disability reviews work.)

Working Too Much Could Affect Your Benefits

In order to receive disability benefits, your disability must prevent you from working at the substantial gainful activity" (SGA) level. As part of your Social Security disability review, the SSA will look at your earnings. If you're earning above the SGA amount, the SSA will stop your disability benefits, even if you only work part-time.

How Unpaid Work Affects Disability Benefits

It's important to note that even if you aren't being paid to do work, activities you perform for others can affect your benefits. The SSA can decide that your non-work activity is the same as a substantial work activity and stop paying your benefits. This can happen if the amount and type of work you're doing would be paid at the SGA level under different circumstances.

Examples of unpaid work that could be interpreted as substantial work activities include:

  • volunteering
  • running your own business or freelancing, or
  • doing work for family members.

If you're earning money through a return to work plan (like the SSA's Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) or Ticket to Work), your earnings shouldn't trigger a CDR. The same is true if you're in a trial work period and you've received more than 24 months of SSDI benefits.

How Work Affects SSI Benefits

The SSA handles its two disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), somewhat differently. Unlike SSDI recipients, people who receive SSI can work at the SGA level without losing benefits. However, you must:

  • earn less than the SSI income limit
  • get benefits for at least a month before returning to work, and
  • still be disabled.

How Turning 18 Can Affect Disabled Child Benefits

If your child receives SSI benefits because of a disability, the SSA will conduct a "redetermination of eligibility" when the child turns 18. During the redetermination period, the SSA will continue to pay your child's benefits.

As your child approaches the age of 18, the SSA will review the child's case using the adult disability standards. If your child continues to meet the eligibility requirements under the adult standards, SSI benefits won't be terminated when the child turns 18.

If your child receives Social Security benefits based on a parent's eligibility (due to the parent's disability or death), those benefits may stop when the child turns 18 (19 if your child is a full-time student). But if your child is also disabled, the SSI benefits can continue (learn more about getting Social Security disability for an adult child).

The SSA will send a notice when it's time for a redetermination of your child's benefits. You must respond to the notice, or the benefits could be discontinued. If the SSA determines that your child isn't eligible for adult disability benefits, you can appeal the decision.

How Incarceration Affects Social Security Disability

If you're getting disability benefits and you're incarcerated for either a felony or misdemeanor, the SSA will stop paying your benefits—either temporarily or permanently. When your benefits would stop depends on whether you're getting SSDI or SSI benefits.

Incarceration and SSI

The SSA will suspend SSI benefits after one full month of incarceration. For example, if your sentence begins on January 15, your benefits would stop on March 1. When you're released from jail, you can get your benefits restarted if they were suspended for less than 12 months, but you must provide the SSA with proof of your release.

Incarceration and Other Social Security Benefits

For Social Security benefits other than SSI, the SSA will suspend your benefits if you're convicted of a criminal offense and sentenced to jail or prison for more than 30 continuous days. You can get your benefits restarted when you get out of jail, but again, you'll need to provide the SSA with proof of release.

How Specific Crimes and Circumstances Can Affect Your Disability

Living in any kind of facility managed by the department of corrections will affect your benefits. These rules also apply to people in halfway houses. But, if you're under house arrest (home monitoring), you're still eligible to receive benefits.

Some crimes can make a recipient ineligible for benefits (like treason or certain acts of terrorism). Fleeing felons and parole violators also lose their benefits.

(Learn more about getting disability when you've been convicted of a crime.)

How Reaching Retirement Age Affects Disability

If you're eligible for retirement and you're getting disability now, when you reach full retirement age, your Social Security disability benefits will simply convert to retirement benefits. Because full retirement benefits are generally equal to SSDI payments, your benefit amount shouldn't change. So, although you'll technically lose your disability benefits at retirement, your retirement benefit will make up for the loss.

You Can Lose Disability Benefits If You Commit Fraud

If the SSA determines that a disability claim was in any way fraudulent and the fraud affected the outcome of the claim, the applicant's benefits will stop. You will lose benefits if you knowingly do any of the following:

  • give false information about your identity (like using a false Social Security number)
  • give a false statement about or misrepresent facts that could affect your disability case
  • give false information about how much money you've earned
  • give false information about whether or not you're self-employed, or
  • hide or don't report anything that might affect your right to benefits.

How Changes in Assets or Income Affect Disability

If you're receiving SSI, changes in your financial resources can result in a loss or reduction of your benefits. The SSA has set limits for your personal and family income and assets, as well as financial help you get from others.

SSI Personal Income Limit

The SSA counts both earned income (wages) and unearned income (such as alimony) toward your SSI income limit. For 2022, the individual income limit is $841; income over that amount can cause the SSA to reduce your benefits.

SSI Asset Limit

To be eligible for SSI, you can't have more than $2,000 in assets. Assets are things of value that a person owns (like cash or investments). Not all assets are counted when the SSA determines your assets.

For example, if you own your primary residence and one car, the SSA will not count these as assets. But if you acquire new assets, like a second car that's worth more than $2,000, you'll stop getting benefits.

How Free Food and Shelter Affect Your SSI

If you receive free food and shelter, the SSA will count it as "in-kind" income, and it can affect your benefits. For example, if you live with your adult child who pays your living expenses, the food and shelter provided to you (rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc.) would be counted as in-kind income, and your SSI benefits would be reduced by one-third.

SSI Family Income Limits

Your parents' or spouse's income will be used to determine your continued eligibility for SSI. For child recipients, a portion of parental income is counted to determine eligibility. If you're a married SSI recipient, the SSA will count at least part of your spouse's income when determining eligibility.

(Learn more about how the SSA calculates income for SSI disability benefits.)

Disability and Death

The SSA will stop paying your disability benefits when you die. However, your family members might become eligible for survivors or widow(er) benefits.

See a Disability Expert

If the SSA has stopped paying your benefits, it might be helpful to discuss your case with an experienced disability attorney.

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