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Understanding SSD benefits if you're nearing retirement age

If you're one of the millions of Americans receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits because an illness, injury or disability has left you unable to work, you know how much you've come to count on that money as a source of income.

What happens if you're nearing the age where you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits? In most cases, you can't get both. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will switch you from SSD benefits to retirement benefits. It's important to know when that will be.

Full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which you'll receive all the benefits you're entitled to based on what you've paid into the system over the years. FRA depends on what year you were born. For example, if you were born in 1954, your FRA is 66. If you were born that year or later, it's 67.

You'll receive the same amount each month when you're moved from SSD to retirement benefits -- just from a different Social Security program.

People can choose to file for Social Security retirement benefits once they reach 62. However, they permanently receive a lower amount of benefits (possibly as much as 30% lower) than if they'd waited until their FRA. Those retirement benefits are also going to be lower than SSD benefits. If you're already getting SSD benefits and will continue to do so, there's no reason to file for early retirement benefits.

Some people stop working before they reach FRA because of a medical condition and choose to file for early retirement benefits rather than SSD benefits or while they're waiting to be approved for SSD benefits. If you do that and are approved for SSD benefits, you'll likely get retroactive benefits back to the date of your disability and will receive the monthly amount of money you'd qualify for in retirement benefits at FRA. However, if you aren't approved for disability benefits, you're looking at years of lower retirement income.

That's a lot to think about. If you're considering filing for early Social Security retirement benefits because you're no longer able to work, it's worth finding out whether you can qualify for disability benefits until you reach your FRA. This could help you secure a full retirement payout for the rest of your life. It's probably worthwhile to seek the guidance of an attorney who knows the Social Security system.

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