Converting SSI to Social Security Retirement Benefits

Q: Can the federal government force me to file for Social Security retirement benefits when I turn 62 if I’m currently receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

It’s not uncommon for people to be confused by the differences among Social Security disability benefit programs, the Social Security retirement benefits program, and the eligibility requirements for same.

When  people think about Social Security benefits, most think about retirement benefits, which are payable to those who paid Social Security taxes and worked for a total of 10 or more years at any point in their lifetime. There are age requirements to collect Social Security retirement benefits, with the earliest age you can access benefits being 62. Many people defer applying for early retirement benefits and continue working because the monthly benefits stipend grows the longer you wait to apply.

Completely different from the retirement benefits program, the federal government offers two different benefits programs with different eligibility criteria for people who are or become disabled: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

In a nutshell, SSDI requires certain recent work credits for eligibility and applicants must be under 65 and suffer from a qualifying physical or mental disability. SSDI applicants must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for five of the last 10 years. On the other hand, SSI is strictly need-based assistance for those with qualifying physical or mental disabilities and very-low income/assets–it does not require that applicants have ever worked at all, though many may have worked at some point and the monthly benefit amount is standard for all recipients.

Sometimes, if an applicant for SSDI does not have enough recent work experience, but meets the disability and extremely low-income criteria, they may qualify for SSI benefits.

But what happens when they hit the minimum retirement benefits age?

If someone is collecting SSI, they are required to file for any other benefit programs they may be eligible for before SSI income will be paid. In the case of a disabled person with prior work credits who was denied SSDI but who was granted SSI benefits prior to age 62, Social Security will require that person to file for Social Security retirement benefits at the earliest age for eligibility, which is age 62. If the retirement benefits amount is higher than the SSI benefits amount, the SSI benefits will be lost, but if the retirement benefits amount is lower, then the applicant may be entitled to supplement the retirement income with SSI benefits, but only to the extent the total benefit does not exceed the maximum allowable benefit under the SSI program (currently $735 per month). In contrast, those receiving SSDI benefits prior to age 62 are automatically converted to retirement benefits with no change in the monthly payment upon turning 62.

A SSI and SSDI attorney can help you navigate this complex and specialized area of law. Peña and Bromberg, P.L.C has specialized in Social Security and Disability law as well as Veterans Disability and Benefits law since 1984 and can help people at any stage of the application or appeals process. Call 559-439-9700 for a free consultation.

We serve clients nationally as well as those located throughout Central Valley CA including San Francisco Bay, Oakland, Bakersfield, Madera, Stockton, Fresno, Sacramento, and Modesto.

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