The first question most people ask once they’re approved for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits is when will I start receiving benefits? That depends on when your state’s Disability Determination Services (DDS) decides your disability actually began. For example…
If—based on information you or your doctor provided—the DDS decides your disability “officially” began on, say, January 15, then your first monthly disability benefit would be paid for the month of July. Why so much later?
Because, initially, there’s a five-month delay, during which time the benefits accumulate as “back pay.” Then benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due. So your July benefit would be paid in August…your August benefit would be paid in September…and so on.
Or, for example, if your disability began on, say, June 10, then your first disability benefit would be paid for the month of December, and you would receive it the following month—in January.
Note: If your family members are eligible for benefits based on your work, they would receive a separate Award Notice. Also, if you believe that any benefit amount is not correct, you’ll need to contact the SSA within 60 days.
The day of each month you’ll be paid
That usually depends on the day of the month you were born on, if the payment is based on your Social Security work record. If, for example, you were born on the 4th of the month, you’ll receive benefits every month on the 4th. But if you receive benefits as a spouse, the payment date will be determined by your spouse’s birth date.
If, some months, the payment date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or national holiday, expect to be paid on the preceding weekday.
How your disability payments will be paid to you
For decades, the SSA mailed benefit checks to recipients once a month, at a gigantic cost for check printing, envelopes and postage. But countless benefit checks were stolen from mailboxes or in other ways before the intended recipients ever saw them, and there were additional expenses, plus delays, for investigations and for issuing duplicate checks. But all that changed in 2011.
Now, the SSA gives recipients a choice of 3 more secure options, and the funds are available the same day they’re deposited:
- Electronic payments: You can receive your monthly payments via direct deposit right into your checking or savings account at your bank, savings & loan, or credit union.
- Direct Express® debit card. Each month, the SSA will deposit funds electronically into your Direct Express account (available on request) and you can use your card (it’s free) as you would any debit card, to pay for purchases or withdraw money from ATMs. (There may be ATM fees.)
- Electronic Transfer Account (ETA). This is a low-cost (to you) account you can set up at any participating, federally-insured bank, S&L or credit union. It was designed for recipients who don’t have, or don’t qualify for, a regular checking or savings account. [Your benefits are protected, under federal law, from attachments or garnishments by creditors to satisfy any obligations you may owe, except for child support or alimony obligations.]
Before or after you’re approved for SSD benefits, you’ll need to tell the SSA which of these 3 options you prefer, since (with rare exceptions) they are no longer sending out benefit checks.
Are SSD benefit payments taxable?
That depends on your total income for the year from other sources, such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and/or other taxable income.
Generally speaking, if you file an individual federal tax return and your total annual income is more than $25,000, or if you and your spouse file a joint return and your combined income is over $34,000, you may have to pay taxes on your SSD benefits, up to a certain percentage that may change every year or so.
The Social Security Administration may contact you
Yes, especially when they need to verify that you are still eligible for SSD benefits. They may send you a letter or phone you. If someone phones you, don’t reveal your entire SSN; only verify the last four digits, because the caller may not really be with the SSA. Or someone claiming to be an SSA representative may show up at your door and display ID (which is easy to counterfeit these days). So it’s a good idea, for security reasons, to call your local SSA office (keep their number by your phone) and ask if someone was actually sent to see you. Or, if there’s an SSA office near you, and you’re able to travel, you might make an appointment and go there to verify that you’re still eligible for benefits.
Will you lose your SSD benefits if you work and earn money?
That depends on several factors. The SSA has special rules that may make it possible for you to work and still receive your monthly SSD benefits.
A trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months. During this period, you’ll receive your full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.
Currently, a trial work month is any month in which your total wages are more than $810 OR, if self-employed, you earn more than $810 (after any expenses) OR you work over 80 hours in your own business. The trial work period continues until you’ve worked the equivalent of nine months within a 60-month period.
Then, after your trial work period, you’ll have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not “substantial”—that is, they are less than $1,170/month if not blind or less than $1,950/month if blind.
No new application or disability decision is needed to receive an SSD benefit during this period.
What should you know about the SSA’s Ticket to Work program?
If it’s possible, the SSA would much rather have you working (even if just a little) than for you to do nothing all day. Of course, working will bring in additional income and maintain your work skills or help you learn new ones.
That’s why they created Ticket to Work—an employment support program for people with disabilities who are interested in going to work or increasing the work they already do. Its goal is to increase opportunities and choices for SSD beneficiaries to obtain vocational rehabilitation, part- or full-time employment, and other support services from public and private providers, employers (including even one-person firms) and other organizations. Each provider is called an Employment Network (EN) and receives government funding.
If the SSA notifies you that you’re eligible to participate in the program as a ticket-holder (you’re given a voucher), you’re encouraged to contact the Ticket to Work Operations Support Manager to learn about the various ENs in your area and to select one.
That EN, if they decide to accept your ticket—after considering your work experience, skills, disability, age, address, etc.—will coordinate and provide appropriate services to help you find and maintain employment and/or the other services you may need. However, ENs are not required to serve everyone who selects them. They can elect which specific services they want to offer, which people they are capable of serving, and in which geographical area they will work. At any time, you can switch to another EN (or) the EN can end its agreement with you.
The program is voluntary and performance-based. ENs receive payments when you, the ticket-holder, achieve certain employment-related milestones or outcomes.
Will your SSD benefit amount increase if your disability gets worse or you have additional health problems?
No. It stays the same, since it’s based on your lifetime earnings (those covered by Social Security) before your disability began—not on the severity of your disability. However, if you go back to work after you start receiving your disability benefits, you may be eligible for a higher benefit amount based on those new earnings being added to your former lifetime average.
Will the SSA ever review your medical condition, to see if you still qualify for SSD benefits?
Yes, as mentioned above. They need to make sure their limited funds go to those who really need them.
How often will the reviews be?
It depends on how severe your condition is and the likelihood it will improve. Your Award Notice will tell you when to expect your first review.
- If your condition is expected to improve within a specific time, your first review will be six to 18 months after you start getting disability benefits.
- Then, if improvement is still considered possible, your case will be reviewed about every three years.
- However, if your condition is unlikely to improve, your case will be reviewed only about once every five to seven years.
Your SSDI benefits will continue unless there is strong proof that your condition has improved medically and you are able to return to work.
What happens during a review?
After the SSA sends you a letter telling you to expect a review, your local SSA office will contact you to explain the review process and your appeal rights (if needed). The representative will ask you to provide information about your current medical treatment and any work that you may have done or are doing.
Next, a “team”—a disability examiner and a doctor—will review your file and request your medical reports. You may be asked to have a special examination, which the SSA will pay for (along with some travel expenses).
When a decision is made, you’ll be notified by mail. If they decide you still are disabled, your benefits will continue. If they decide you’re no longer eligible for SSD benefits, you can appeal their decision.
Will you receive a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) each January?
Once again, it depends. If the official cost of living has gone up by 2% or more during the previous year, your SSD benefit amount will be increased by the same percentage. If not, your benefit amount will remain the same. In January of 2017, for example, there is a COLA of .3% paid to recipients of SSA benefits.
What will happen when you reach “full retirement age”?
The SSA’s official “full retirement age”—a/k/a “normal retirement age”—for retirement benefits has been 65 for decades. However, it’s gradually increasing to 67, because people are living longer and the SSA needs to reduce their financial obligations. If you become 67 while receiving SSD benefits, you’ll start receiving the same amount as regular SSA retirement benefits instead.
You’ll be automatically enrolled in Medicare after you’ve received SSD benefits for 24 months, regardless of your age.
Or you may qualify for Medicare coverage almost immediately, if you have permanent kidney failure requiring regular dialysis or a transplant, or if you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”).
Your Medicare coverage will have two parts:
A. Hospital insurance (Part A) helps pay for inpatient hospital bills and some follow-up care. It’s free. [The taxes you paid while you were working financed this coverage.]
B. Medical insurance (Part B) helps pay doctors’ bills, outpatient hospital care and other medical services. You’ll need to pay a monthly premium (via automatic deductions) for this coverage if you want it.
Once you (or family members who receive benefits based on your work record) start receiving SSD benefits you’ll be responsible for promptly telling the SSA if any of these 18 events occur:
- Your medical condition improves.
- There’s any change (either way) in your ability to work.
- You take a job or become self-employed—no matter how little you earn. Let the SSA know how many hours you expect to work and when your work starts or stops. If still disabled, you’ll be eligible for the SSD trial work period, and you can continue receiving benefits for up to nine months.
- You have any special work expenses because of your disability (e.g., specialized equipment; a wheelchair; prescription drugs) or if there is a change in the amount of these expenses. [The SSA deducts the expenses from your gross earnings to determine your net earnings.]
- You receive any other disability benefits or lump-sum settlements, or you are also eligible for workers’ compensation, or you are eligible for disability benefits from certain federal, state or local government programs.
- You are offered services under the SSA’s Ticket to Work Program.
- Your benefits change or stop without notification to you.
- You (and/or family members getting SSA benefits) are planning to move. Tell the SSA the effective date of your new address, new phone number, and new financial institution and account number. Allow 30-60 days for the SSA to revise their records, and keep your present bank account open until your SSD benefit is received at your new financial institution. If the SSA is unable to contact you, your benefit payments will stop. Of course, also inform your local post office of your change of address.
- You get married or divorced. Then your Social Security benefits may be affected, depending on the kind of benefits you (or your spouse) receive. If your benefits are stopped because of marriage or remarriage, they may be started again if the marriage ends.
- You change your name—by marriage, divorce or court order. If you do not notify the SSA right away, your benefits will continue to be issued under your old name and, if you have direct deposit, payments may not reach your account. Or, if your SSD benefit payments will be deposited in an SSA-issued Direct Express® debit card, you might have problems using it to make purchases and also get cash back, if your new ID is different from the name on your card.
- You’ve been receiving benefits because you were caring for a disabled worker’s child younger than age 16 or disabled, and the child has left your care. Notify the SSA immediately and provide the name and address of the person with whom the child is now living. [A temporary separation may not affect your benefits if you continue to have parental control over the child, but your benefits will stop if you no longer have responsibility for the child. If the child returns to your care, you can start receiving benefits again.]
- You become the parent of a child (including an adopted child) after you qualify for benefits, so that the SSA can determine if the child also qualifies for benefits.
- You were caring for a child who was receiving benefits and the child is adopted by someone else. Notify the SSA of the child’s new name, the date of the adoption decree, and the adopting parent’s name and address. The adoption will not cause the child’s benefits to stop.
- You die or a family member receiving benefits dies. Benefits are not payable for the month of death, so if a benefit payment is received for that month, it must be returned to the SSA. For example: If the person dies any time in July, the payment received in August (which is actually the payment for July) must be returned. If direct deposit is used, also notify the financial institution of the death, so it can return any payments received after death.[Note: Family members may be eligible for Social Security survivors’ benefits when a person getting disability benefits dies.]
- You have an outstanding warrant for your arrest for any of the following felony offenses: Flight to avoid prosecution or confinement • Escape from custody • Flight-escape.
- You are convicted of a crime. While you’re confined, the SSA will not pay you regular disability benefits or any underpayments due. [However, any family members eligible for benefits based on your work may continue to receive their benefits.] Also, benefits are usually not paid to persons found not guilty by reason of insanity or due to mental disease, mental defect or mental incompetence, or were deemed incompetent to stand trial.
- You violate a condition of parole or probation imposed under federal or state law. Regular disability benefits or any underpayment due will not be paid for any month(s) in which the violation occurs or continues.
- You leave the United States for 30 days or more and would like your benefit payments sent abroad. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can travel to or live in most foreign countries without affecting your benefits. Tell the SSA the name of the country or countries you plan to visit and the date you expect to leave the U.S. But they cannot send payments directly to you if your foreign bank account is in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Cambodia, Georgia (in Eurasia), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan or Vietnam.
Be prepared to give the date of any of these events, and (if different) the name of the person about whom the change report is made.
If you do not report a change, it may result in your being overpaid. If so, you will have to repay the excess money. Also, if the SSA considers it fraudulent, your benefits will be stopped. (See Warning below.)
Know your SSD claim number; use it whenever contacting the SSA. It will be on the Award Notice you’ll receive when the SSA approves your claim or appeal. If you receive benefits based on your own work, your claim number will be the same as your Social Security number (SSN) followed by the letters “HA.” If you receive benefits based on someone else’s work, it will be the other person’s SSN followed by a different letter.
Note: Information you or family members give to another government agency (federal, state or local) may be provided to the SSA by the other agency, but you must report changes directly to the SSA in case it isn’t.
Warning: If the SSA learns that you purposely gave them incomplete or false information, your benefits will be stopped. For the first violation, your benefits will be stopped for six months; for the second violation, 12 months; and for the third, 24 months.