Typically a person can apply for early Social Security retirement benefits beginning at age 62. However, benefits will be less at an early retirement age than if the person begins receiving Social Security retirement benefits at their full retirement age. A person’s Social Security retirement benefits are calculated based on their employment earnings.
A lengthy period of little or no earnings can affect a person’s retirement benefits. Because this may create a hardship for people suffering from severely disabling conditions that prevent them from working, the concept of the disability “freeze” was introduced. This concept made the Social Security disability program more palatable for many legislators at the time of its enactment in 1956.
The disability “freeze” can operate to prevent a disabled person’s retirement benefits from being lowered despite a period of years of little or no earnings due to a disability.
A person of the appropriate advanced age who becomes disabled may be able to apply for both disability benefits and early retirement benefits (beginning at age 62). The person will begin receiving lower retirement benefits than if they waited until their full retirement age. But if the person then successfully wins their disability claim, this difference in amounts can be made up.
In considering whether to apply for disability and still take an early retirement, the person will need to consider the strength of their disability claim. If the person is relatively certain they will win their disability claim (a rigorous standard, but with special rules for older workers), early retirement may help the person subsist by providing cash benefits during the disability application process. But the person in such a situation should be aware that if their disability claim is lost and they have elected early retirement, they may then be stuck with the lower retirement amount in perpetuity.
A disabled person considering these issues may consider consulting an experienced attorney for advice.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.