How Long Do Social Security Disability Benefits Last?

Assuming your disability doesn't improve and you remain unable to work, your benefits should last until you reach retirement age, at which point you'll switch over to retirement benefits.

How old are you?

Social Security and SSI disability benefits are a form of social protection insurance that pays you income if you become disabled. As such, generally you'll receive disability benefits for as long as you need them.

How Long Do You Receive Disability Benefits?

You'll receive Social Security benefits as long as you remain sufficiently disabled. This means as long as your disability prevents you from working, you are eligible to continue receiving Social Security disability benefits.

The SSA will conduct periodic reviews of your case to determine whether you are still eligible for disability benefits. These reviews are called continuing disability reviews (CDRs) and they generally happen every few years, although the time period in between reviews depends on the severity of your condition and the likelihood that your impairment will improve. (Your Certificate of Award from the Social Security Administration (SSA) should state when to expect your first review.) You must report changes in your condition to the SSA, even if those changes would result in the cessation of your disability benefits. To learn more about these reviews, see What Is a Continuing Disability Review?

When Disability Benefits Will Stop

There are three separate occasions when Social Security disability benefits stop. The benefits will stop:

When you are no longer disabled. If your condition changes such that your disability is no longer considered to be severe or debilitating enough to preclude you from working, your benefits will end. For instance, if you qualified for disability for cancer but you have completely recovered, expect your benefits to stop.

When you reach retirement age. When you reach the age of 65, your Social Security disability benefits stop and you automatically begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits instead. The specific amount of money you receive each month generally remains the same.

When you being to earn too much money. There are limits on the amount of income you can earn when receiving SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) payments or SSI (Supplemental Security Income).

Earned Income Limits

There are different limits for disabled vs. blind applicants and SSDI vs. SSI applicants.

  • For nonblind Social Security disability recipients (SSDI), the limit to the amount of money you can earn per month is $1,310. If you make anything over that amount, you are considered to be performing "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). And if you are able to perform SGA, the SSA will assume that you are able to work and will stop your benefits within a short amount of time.
  • For blind SSDI recipients, the earned income limit is $2,190 per month.
  • For SSI recipients, the limit to the amount of money you can earn per month is around $1,673 (if you have no non-earned income). Anything over that amount means you don't fit into the low-income parameters for SSI. But SSI benefits start to be phased out when you make $794 per month or more.

Generally, however, the SSA will allow you to try to work for a limited period of time without altering your benefits, so you can test yourself to see whether you can work with your disability.

Trial Work Programs

For the SSDI program, there is a trial work period, where you can work for a period of nine months. After the nine months, the SSA will decide if you're doing substantial gainful activity, that is, making more than $1,310. After that, you get another 36 months where you can continue to receive benefits (assuming you're still disabled) in any month where your income does not amount to SGA. It is designed to help you to try to get back to work without taking the risk of losing your benefits.

For the SSI program, there is a Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS). This is a plan to go back to work that you develop with the help of the SSA or a vocational rehabilitation worker. During the plan, the money you earn isn't counted toward the SSI income limits and won't reduce your SSI payments.

The SSA's Ticket-to-Work program can provide you with training to help you find a job you can do, even while disabled. Under this program, the SSA issues tickets to SSDI or SSI recipients who can turn in those tickets to an employment network to receive employment services, vocational rehabilitation services, or other support services necessary to return to work.

Updated January 6, 2021

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