How Long Do Social Security Disability Benefits Last?

If your disability doesn't improve and you remain unable to work, your benefits should last until you reach retirement age.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits are benefit programs that pay you income if you become disabled. You'll generally receive disability benefits for as long as you meet Social Security's definition of disabled.

How Long Can You Receive Disability Benefits?

You can continue to get SSDI or SSI disability benefits as long as your disability keeps you from working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will conduct periodic reviews of your case to see if you're still eligible for disability benefits. These reviews are called "continuing disability reviews" (CDRs), and they generally happen every few years. But the amount of time between reviews depends on the severity of your condition and the likelihood that your impairment will improve.

You must report changes in your condition to the SSA, even if those changes would result in the loss of your disability benefits. Learn more about when Social Security can take away disability benefits.

When Disability Benefits Will Stop

There are three separate occasions when Social Security will stop paying disability benefits. Your benefits will stop if:

  • you're no longer disabled
  • you've reached retirement age (SSDI only), or
  • you're earning too much money.

Disability Benefits End When You're No Longer Disabled

If your condition changes and your disability is no longer considered severe or debilitating enough to keep you from working, your benefits will end. For instance, if you qualified for disability for cancer while you were undergoing chemotherapy, but you've completely recovered, expect Social Security to stop your benefits.

SSDI Ends When You Reach Retirement Age

When you reach full retirement age, your Social Security disability benefits (SSDI only) will stop, and you'll automatically begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits instead. The specific amount of money you receive each month generally remains the same, and any SSI benefits you're getting should continue.

Note: Full retirement age is 66 for those born from 1943 to 1954. It increases by two-month each year for those born from 1955 through 1959. For everyone born in 1960 or later full retirement age is 67.

Disability Benefits End When You Earn Too Much Money

Social Security has limits on the amount of income you can earn when receiving SSDI or SSI. We'll discuss this just below.

Earned Income Limits and Disability

Social Security has set limits for the amount of money you can earn when you're getting disability benefits. And the limits vary for disabled vs. blind recipients and SSDI vs. SSI.

SSDI Earned Income Limits

If you're disabled but not blind, Social Security has set the limit for the amount you can earn at $1,470 per month (2023). The SSA considers anything over that amount "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). And if you can perform at the SGA level, Social Security will assume that you can work and will stop your benefits within a short time.

For blind SSDI recipients, the earned income limit in 2023 is $2,460 per month. Again, any earnings above that amount will exceed the SGA limit, and the SSA will end your disability benefits.

SSI Earned Income Limits

The SGA limit doesn't apply to SSI recipients after they start receiving benefits.

Instead, Social Security has set an income limit for SSI recipients based on the federal benefit rate (FBR). In 2023, the FBR (the maximum benefit possible) is $914 per month for individuals and $1,371 per month for couples. If your "countable income" (not all of your income) is more than the FBR, your SSI benefits will end.

Since the SSA only counts half of the income you earn from work toward the limit, you (as an individual) can earn up to around $1,850 per month (if you have no non-earned income) before losing your benefits. Anything over that amount means you don't fit Social Security's definition of "low-income" and your benefits will be terminated. But Social Security will begin reducing your SSI benefits when you make more than $925 per month.

Social Security's Trial Work Programs

To encourage you to return to work, Social Security will allow you to try to work for a limited time without taking away your SSI or SSDI benefits. The SSA wants to encourage you to work. To that end, Social Security lets you test yourself without risking your disability benefits to see if you can return to work long term.

SSDI and the Trial Work Period

If you're getting SSDI benefits, Social Security will allow you to try to return to work over a period of time. A trial work period lasts nine months. You can make as much money as you want for nine months without losing your benefits.

After you've worked for nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month period, the SSA will look closely at the income you make in your tenth month of working. If the work you're doing equals substantial gainful activity—that is, if you earn more than $1,470 per month—you won't receive disability benefits for that month.

But even if you begin working at the SGA level for some months, but not others, your benefits won't suddenly end. You can continue receiving benefits for another 36 months (assuming you're still disabled) in any month where your income doesn't reach the SGA limit. Social Security designed the trial work period to help you try to get back to work without having to risk losing your benefits.

SSI and the PASS Program

If you're receiving SSI, you can take part in 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. While participating in PASS, any money you earn isn't counted toward the SSI income limits and won't reduce your SSI benefits.

Social Security's Ticket-to-Work Program

Whether you're getting SSDI or SSI benefits, the SSA's Ticket-to-Work program can get you training aimed at helping you find a job you can do, even while disabled. Under this program, Social Security issues you "tickets." You 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.

Social Security will stop your continuing disability reviews while you're doing a Ticket to Work program, even if you're making more than the SGA amount.

What If You Lose Your Disability Benefits?

Sometimes Social Security will stop paying you disability benefits, like when a continuing disability review determines that you're no longer disabled. If you disagree with the SSA's decision, you can appeal the CDR cessation.

If your disability benefits ended because you were earning above the SGA level after a trial work period, and you've stopped working, or your earnings have dropped below the SGA, you can probably get your benefits restarted. Learn what you need to do to get your benefits reinstated quickly.

Updated January 19, 2023

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