People who are eligible for both Social Security retirement benefits and disability benefits may wonder if they are allowed to collect these benefits at the same time. However, in general, you cannot receive Social Security retirement and disability benefits together.

This is because the Social Security disability program is designed to provide benefits to people who are unable to work due to a disabling condition and who are not old enough to begin drawing their retirement benefits. As a result, Social Security disability benefits are often thought of as a retirement benefits for those who are forced to retire early because of a disability.

For those collecting Social Security disability benefits, these disability benefits are converted to retirement benefits when you reach the age of retirement. While generally you cannot receive both Social Security retirement and disability benefits together, there is one important exception.

The early retirement exception

The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows persons starting at age 62 to take early, reduced retirement benefits. In line with these early benefits, there is one possible exception to the general rule above – if someone takes advantage of early retirement through the Social Security system and later is approved for disability benefits.

To qualify for this exception, you must have been disabled before your early retirement benefits started. If you drew less than a full retirement benefit for some amount of time and are later approved for disability benefits, the SSA will retroactively pay you the difference between the early retirement benefit and the full disability amount for the months you were disabled but only were receiving early retirement benefits.

Consider this example: A man must quit work because of health problems and begins collecting early retirement benefits. He later applies for disability benefits and is approved. The SSA believes his disability began before he started collecting early retirement benefits. As a result, the SSA will pay the man the difference between his disability payment and his early retirement payment for the months he only received early retirement benefits.

If the SSA determines that your disability started after you began receiving early retirement benefits or if the SSA denies your claim, the SSA will not pay you any disability benefits and you will continue to receive reduced early retirement payments for the rest of your life.

When to take early retirement

As you can see, purposefully quitting work at age 62 to collect early retirement with the hope of also qualifying for disability benefits can be a gamble. Many people hope that by applying for disability and electing to collect early retirement at the same time that they will be able to have their early retirement payments fill the gap in time until their disability payments start.

However, it is very important to remember that there is no guarantee that you will be granted disability benefits. If you elect to take early retirement benefits and the SSA does not grant you disability benefits, you will be forced to collect less that your full retirement benefit for the rest of your life.

While retiring early and applying for disability can work for those who are severely impaired and who are sure they will receive disability benefits, it may not be the best plan for everyone. If you are considering taking this action, consider talking to an experienced Social Security disability attorney who can help you assess your best options and chances of receiving disability benefits.