What Can Cause You to Lose Your Social Security Benefits?
Losing your Social Security Disability benefits is a scary thought. After all, it’s a lifeline for many people, who need these benefits to support themselves. Could it happen to you?
It’s actually possible to lose your SSDI benefits. Unfortunately, they’re not guaranteed forever. Many people have lost their SSDI benefits while they still needed them. Sometimes, a loss in benefits is due to a mistake; other times, it is unavoidable.
How can you lose your Social Security Disability benefits? Today, we’re tackling this very important topic. Keep reading to find out the five reasons Social Security benefits can stop.
#1 Your Medical Condition Improves.
You are only eligible to continue receiving benefits so long as you are disabled. If your condition improves, benefits may stop.
After you’re approved for Social Security Disability, the Social Security Administration periodically reviews your case. This is called a “Continuing Disability Review.” In this review, the SSA determines whether or not you are still disabled—and whether or not you’ll get SSDI benefits.
Depending on your age and your particular condition, the SSA may review your case once every three to seven years.
However, the SSA may review your case sooner in certain circumstances. For example, a review might happen if they find that you have returned to work, if a new treatment for your condition is introduced, or if evidence suggests that you’ve experienced “medical improvement.”
If the SSA decides to stop your benefits on the basis of medical improvement, all is not lost: you’re allowed to appeal their decision if you don’t agree.
#2 You Return to Work.
You are only eligible to continue receiving disability benefits if your health condition prevents you from doing “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).
What does that mean?
The SSA considers someone to be doing substantial gainful activity if they earn $1,350 per month ($2,260 if the person is blind), as of 2022. If you go back to work and reach this earnings threshold, it’s possible to lose your SSDI benefits.
Are you safe as long as you earn less than that cap? Not necessarily.
Even if you’re only doing part-time work, earning $500 a month for example, you might still lose benefits. That can happen if the SSA reviews your job duties and determines that your health condition doesn’t prevent you from doing gainful activity.
You can test a return to work by taking advantage of the SSA’s work incentives. (You can read our previous post about working while on disability.)
One of the SSA’s work incentives is a program called “Ticket to Work.” This free and voluntary program involves a trial work period. During this period, you would continue to receive your full SSDI benefits, regardless of how much you make at your new job. This program allows you to explore the possibility of going back to work without risk to your livelihood.
The trial work period continues until you have used nine months in a 5-year time frame. (The months don’t have to be consecutive.) A month counts as a trial work month if you earn more than $970.
In addition to the Ticket to Work program, the SSA also offers an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). This incentive would be offered after you completed the Ticket to Work program. During the EPE—which lasts 36 months—your SSDI benefits would continue each month you are disabled and your earnings fall below SGA level. If you reach SGA level, you would lose eligibility, and benefits would stop after two months. However, if you earn less than the SGA cap within the 36-month EPE time frame, your benefits can start again—without a new SSDI application.
Before trying to go back to work, it’s important to make sure you don’t jeopardize your benefits. Consider participating in the “Ticket to Work” program if you want to test the waters while keeping your benefits safe.
#3 Your Volunteer Work Is Considered Substantial Gainful Activity.
This reason might be a surprising one, but it’s unfortunately true. Losing Social Security disability benefits from volunteering is possible!
Why is that? Remember, the money you earn isn’t the only thing the SSA considers when reviewing your benefits.
Depending on the type of volunteer work you do, the SSA might determine that you are doing “substantial gainful activity.” If that’s the case, they would consider you no longer disabled, and you would lose your benefits. That’s why volunteering can cost you your SSDI benefits—even though you’re not making any money.
That said, you don’t have to stop volunteering. We understand that many people find volunteering to be fulfilling and a source of connection.
To protect your SSDI benefits while you volunteer, consider what kind of volunteering you like to do. Some volunteer jobs are more likely to raise red flags with the SSA than others. For example, volunteer jobs like bookkeeping for a non-profit, stocking shelves for a food pantry, and similar jobs can be considered SGA. If possible, look at volunteer work like following.
These volunteer programs are never considered SGA:
- Volunteers in Service to America
- University Year for ACTION
- Foster Grandparent Program
- Service Corps of Retired Executives
- Active Corps of Executives
- Special Volunteer Programs
There are many opportunities for volunteer work that won’t jeopardize the benefits you need. (You can read our previous post for more information about volunteering while on disability.)
#4 You Go to Prison or an Institution
Having a criminal record doesn’t usually keep you from being approved for SSDI benefits.
However, if you are already receiving benefits, going to prison, halfway house, or mental health institution under the supervision of the Department of Corrections can result in lost disability benefits. You may also lose your benefits if you flee to avoid arrest or violate parole or probation.
A misdemeanor conviction doesn’t affect your benefits, unless you’re incarcerated for 30 days.
If you are incarcerated for more than 30 days, your benefits are suspended. This suspension continues for the length of time that you are incarcerated.
In many cases, your benefits are reinstated the month after your release from prison; however, certain felony convictions may lead to a loss in SSDI benefits.
#5 You Reach Retirement Age
While you can’t avoid this “pitfall” (none of us can stop time!), it’s important to know about this condition.
You can’t receive both disability benefits and retirement benefits at the same time. As a result, when you reach retirement age, your SSDI benefits will stop and your Social Security retirement benefits will kick in.
Questions? Call Us!
Social Security Disability is a complicated system that is practically designed to trip you up. That’s why it’s so helpful to have a knowledgeable disability attorney on your side.
If you have questions about applying for SSDI, appealing an SSA decision, or reinstating SSDI benefits that you’ve lost, don’t hesitate to call us.
We’d be happy to answer your questions and help you navigate this process with ease.