What You Need To Know When You Get Disability Benefits
SSA Publication No. 05-10153, February 2003, (Recycle prior editions), ICN 480165
Who Should Read This Booklet?
You should, now that you’re receiving Social Security disability benefits. You might think that, because the disability application process is over and your benefits are about to start, you no longer have to worry about Social Security. But what should you do if your condition improves? Or what if you want to go back to work but are afraid of losing your benefits? Knowing the answers to these and other questions now will save you a great deal of time, inconvenience and maybe some money later. That’s why you should read this booklet now, then put it aside for reference later. For easy reference, this booklet is divided into four parts:
If you also receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, there are some additional rules for that program. Ask Social Security for a copy of the booklet, What You Need To Know When You Get SSI (Publication No. 05-11011).
Social Security’s Toll-Free Number
Part 1—Your Disability Benefits
Your Benefit Amount
Part 2—Reporting Changes That Can Affect Your Benefits
If You Move
Part 3—Reviewing Your Disability Case
Frequency Of Reviews
Part 4—Helping You Return To Work
Important Information About Work Incentives
Part 1—Your Disability Benefits
Your Benefit Amount
Your benefit award notice explains how much your disability benefit will be and when your payments start. If you are receiving benefits on your own record (or as a widow or widower getting benefits on a spouse’s record), your first benefit payment will be made for the sixth full month of disability after the date your disability began. If the sixth month is past, your first payment may include some benefits for prior months.
When To Expect Your Benefit
Social Security benefits are paid each month. Generally, the day in the month on which you receive your benefit depends on the birth date of the person on whose record you receive benefits. For example, if you receive disability or retirement benefits on your own record, your benefit payment date will be determined by your birth date. If you receive benefits as a spouse, your benefit payment date will be determined by your spouse’s birth date.
Here’s How It Works:
Birth date on
Benefits paid on
1st - 10th
Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA)
Each January, your benefits will increase automatically if the cost of living has increased. For example, if the cost of living has increased by 2 percent during the year, your benefits also will increase by 2 percent. If you receive your benefits by direct deposit, we will notify you of your new benefit amount in advance. If you receive your benefits by check, you also will receive a notice telling you the cost-of-living increase.
We encourage Social Security beneficiaries to have their monthly benefits deposited into a bank or other financial institution account. Direct deposit is a simple, safe and secure way to receive your benefits, and you remain in control of your money.
You can sign up for direct deposit by completing form SF-1199A and taking it to your bank, savings and loan association or credit union. The form is available on our website at www.socialsecurity.gov/online/forms.html. You also can contact any Social Security office or call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213 for more information about direct deposit.
If you don’t have a checking account, you may want to consider an Electronic Transfer Account (ETA). An ETA is for anyone who receives a federal benefit, wage, salary or retirement payment. You can check the ETA website http://fms.treas.gov/eta to locate a bank, savings and loan or credit union near you. This low-cost, federally-insured account lets you enjoy the safety, security and convenience of automatic payments.
If You Get Your Check By Mail
Your check usually arrives on time every month, but if it is delayed, wait at least three days before reporting the missing check to Social Security. The most common reason checks are late is because a change of address was not reported. Don’t sign your check until you are at the place where you will cash it. If you sign it ahead of time and lose it, the person who finds it could cash it. If your check is lost or stolen, contact Social Security right away. Your check can be replaced, but it takes time. To be safe, cash or deposit your check as soon as possible after you receive it. A government check must be cashed within 12 months after the date of the check or it will be void.
Returning Payments Not Due
If you receive a payment you know is not due (for example, you are working and your condition has improved), you should return it to any Social Security office. If you send it by mail, be sure to enclose a note telling why you are sending the payment back.
Paying Taxes On Your Benefits
Some people who get Social Security have to pay taxes on their benefits. You will be affected only if you have substantial income in addition to your Social Security benefits.
Although you’re not required to have federal taxes withheld from your monthly benefit, you may find it easier than paying quarterly estimated tax payments.
To have federal taxes withheld, you’ll need a form W-4V from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You can get this form by calling the IRS toll-free telephone number, 1-800-829-3676, or by visiting SSA’s Internet website, www.socialsecurity.gov. After completing and signing the form, return it to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.
*NOTE: On the 1040 tax return, your "combined income" is the sum of your adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest plus one-half of your Social Security benefits.
To get the address of your local Social Security office use our Internet website at www.socialsecurity.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.
Each time you want to make a change (or stop the withholding), complete the W-4V and send it to Social Security.
Every January, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) in the mail showing the amount of benefits you received in the previous year. You can use this statement when you are completing your federal income tax return to find out if any of your benefits are subject to tax. You also can use the SSA-1099 when you need proof of your benefit amount for any reason.
Most people who are neither residents nor citizens of the U.S. will have up to 25.5 percent of their benefits withheld for federal taxes. If you are subject to this tax and you become a U.S. resident or citizen, you should notify Social Security.
For more information, call 1-800-829-3676 to ask for Publication 554, Tax Information for Older Americans, and Publication 915, Social Security Benefits and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.
How Long Payments Continue
Generally, your disability benefits will continue as long as your condition has not medically improved and you cannot work. They will not necessarily continue indefinitely. More people with disabilities now recover from serious accidents and illnesses because of advances in medical science and rehabilitation techniques. Other people, through determination and effort, return to work in spite of serious conditions.
Your benefits also may be affected if you marry (unless you are getting disability benefits on your own record); if you receive certain other types of disability payments; or if you go to certain countries. In Part 2, we explain your responsibility for reporting changes that can affect your benefits. Please make sure you read and understand this information. This way, you can avoid having to pay back any benefits that you should not have received.
If you are getting disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, your benefits automatically will be changed to retirement benefits, generally in the same amount. You then will receive a new booklet explaining your rights and responsibilities as a retired person.
A Word About Medicare
After you receive disability benefits for 24 months, you will be eligible for Medicare. You will get information about Medicare several months before your coverage starts. (If you have chronic kidney disease requiring regular dialysis or a transplant, you may qualify for Medicare almost immediately.)
Help For Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other "out-of-pocket" Medicare expenses such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more general information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the publication, Medicare Savings Programs (CMS Publication No. 10126-S).
Benefits For Children
If a child is getting benefits on your work record, there are important things you should know about his or her benefits.
When A Child Reaches Age 18
A child’s benefits stop with the month before the child reaches age 18, unless the child is either disabled, or is a full-time elementary or secondary school student and remains unmarried. About five months before the child’s 18th birthday, the person receiving the child’s benefits will get a form explaining how benefits can continue.
A child whose benefits stopped at age 18 can have them started again if he or she becomes disabled before reaching age 22, or becomes a full-time elementary or secondary school student before reaching age 19.
If A Child Is Disabled
A child can continue to receive benefits after age 18 if he or she has a disability. The child also may qualify for SSI disability benefits. For more information, ask us for a copy of the booklet, Benefits For Children With Disabilities (Publication No. 05-10026).
If A Child At Age 18 Is A Student
A child can receive benefits until age 19 if he or she continues to be a full-time elementary or secondary school student and remains unmarried. When a student’s 19th birthday occurs during a school term, benefits can be continued up to two months to allow completion of the term.
Social Security should be notified immediately if the student drops out of school, changes from full-time to part-time attendance, is expelled or suspended or changes schools. We also should be told if the student is paid by his or her employer for attending school.
We send each student a form at the beginning and end of the school year. It is important that the form be filled out and returned to us. Benefits could be stopped if the form is not sent back.
A student can keep receiving benefits during a vacation period of four months or less if he or she plans to go back to school full time at the end of the vacation.
A student who stops attending school generally can receive benefits again if he or she returns to school full time before age 19. The student needs to contact Social Security to reapply for benefits.
How Divorce Affects A Stepchild’s Benefits
If a stepchild is receiving benefits on your earnings record and you and the child’s parent divorce, the stepchild’s benefit will end the month following the month the divorce becomes final. You must tell us as soon as the divorce becomes final.
Having A Child After Benefits Start
If you become the parent of a child (including an adopted child) after you begin receiving Social Security benefits, be sure to notify us so that we can determine if the child qualifies for benefits.
If A Social Security Employee Visits You
If anyone comes to your home to talk about Social Security or SSI, ask for his or her identification. Anyone who is from Social Security will be glad to show you proper identification.
If you have any doubts about the person, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 to ask if someone was sent to see you. And remember: Social Security employees will never ask you for money to have something done. It’s their job to help you.
Free Social Security Services
You never have to pay for information or services at Social Security. Some businesses advertise that they can provide name changes, Social Security cards or earnings statements for a fee. All these services are provided free by Social Security. So don’t pay for something that’s free. Call us first. Social Security is the best place to get information about Social Security.
A Message About Food Stamps
You can get a food stamp application and information at any Social Security office. Or call our toll-free number 1-800-772-1213. Ask for the leaflet, Food Stamps And Other Nutrition Programs (Publication No. 05-10100), or the factsheet, Food Stamp Facts (Publication No. 05-10101).
Your Personal Information Is Safe With Social Security
Social Security keeps personal information on millions of people. That information—such as your Social Security number, earnings record, age and address—is confidential. Generally, we will discuss this information only with you. We need your permission if you want someone else to help with your Social Security business.
If you ask a friend or family member to call Social Security, you need to be with them when they call so we will know that you want them to help. The Social Security representative will ask your permission to discuss your Social Security business with that person.
If you send a friend or family member to our local office to conduct your Social Security business, send your written consent with them. Only with your written permission can Social Security discuss your personal information with them and provide the answers to your questions.
In the case of a minor child, the parent or legal guardian can act on the child’s behalf in taking care of the child’s Social Security business.
We urge you to be careful with your Social Security number and to protect its confidentiality whenever possible. Although we can’t prevent others from asking for your Social Security number, you should know that your Social Security records are kept private.
There are times when the law requires Social Security to give information to other government agencies to conduct other government health or welfare programs—such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid and food stamps. Programs receiving information from Social Security are prohibited from sharing that information.
Part 2—Reporting Changes That Can Affect Your Benefits
You should promptly report any changes that may affect your disability benefits. Family members receiving benefits also should report events that might affect their payments. The events that must be reported are explained on the next few pages.
If You Move
When you plan to move, tell us your new address and phone number as soon as you know them. You can report this information by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.
Even when you receive your benefits by direct deposit, Social Security must have your correct address so we can send letters and other important information to you. Your benefits will be stopped if we are unable to contact your.
When you report your new address, let us know the names of any family members who also should receive their Social Security benefits there. Be sure to file a change of address with the post office, too.
If Your Condition Improves
You must notify us if there is any improvement in your condition. If you don’t tell us, you may receive monthly benefits you are not due—money that you will have to pay back.
We will review your case periodically to determine if you are still disabled. (See Part 3 for more information about this review.)
If You Go To Work
You should tell us if you take a job or become self-employed no matter how little you earn. If you are still disabled, you will be eligible for a trial work period and can continue receiving benefits for up to nine months (See section titled, Nine-Month Trial Work Period).
Also, notify us if you have any special work expenses resulting from your disability (such as specialized equipment, a wheelchair or even some prescription drugs) or if there is any change in the amount of the expenses.
If You Go Outside The United States
If you are a citizen of the United States, your Social Security payments generally can continue for as long as you are outside the United States and meet all requirements. (The Social Security office has a list of 60 other countries whose citizens also can get Social Security benefits if they leave the United States.) However, you must notify Social Security when you plan to leave the U.S. for 30 days or more so that any letters can be sent to the right address. Notifying us also will enable you to learn about any special rules that apply to those receiving benefits outside the U.S. And remember to let Social Security know when you return to the U.S.
If you are a citizen of a country not approved for us to send checks, your benefits will be suspended after you have been outside the U.S. for six months, unless you meet specific conditions. And, if you go to a country where U.S. Treasury Department regulations prohibit sending checks, your benefits will stop immediately. For more information, ask any Social Security office for the booklet, Your Social Security Payments While You Are Outside The United States (Publication No. 05-10137).
If You Receive Other Disability Benefits
If you are disabled and under age 65, Social Security benefits for you and your family may be reduced if you are also eligible for workers’ compensation (including black lung payments) or for disability benefits from certain federal, state or local government programs. Tell us if you:
If You Get A Pension From Work Not Covered by Social Security
If your disability began after 1985, tell us if you start receiving a pension (for which you were first eligible after 1985) from a job where you did not pay Social Security taxes. For more information, ask at any Social Security office for the factsheet, The Windfall Elimination Provision (Publication No. 05-10045).
If You Are A Spouse Or Surviving Spouse Who Receives A Government Pension
Your Social Security payments may be reduced if both of the following statements apply to you.
Notify us if you begin to receive such a pension or if the amount of the pension changes. For more information, ask for factsheet, Government Pension Offset (Publication No. 05-10007).
If You Get Married
Here’s how marriage may affect your disability benefits and when you must report.
If A Person Is Not Able To Manage His Or Her Own Funds
If a person receiving benefits becomes unable to manage his or her funds, someone should let Social Security know. Social Security will arrange for an organization or person called a "representative payee" to receive and use the benefits for that person. The payee is responsible for:
If you have a representative payee and also are addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may be referred to the state substance abuse agency for treatment.
Please Note: If a person has "power of attorney" for someone, that does not automatically qualify him or her to be the representative payee.
For more information, ask Social Security for the booklet, A Guide For Representative Payees (Publication No. 05-10076).
If A Beneficiary Is Convicted Of A Criminal Offense
If someone getting Social Security benefits is convicted of a crime, Social Security should be notified immediately. Benefits generally are not paid for the months a person is imprisoned for a crime, but any family members who are eligible may continue to receive benefits. Benefits usually are not paid to persons found mentally ill who commit a crime and are confined to an institution by court order and at public expense. This applies if the person has been found:
Benefits also are not payable for months that a person completing a prison term for a sexual offense remains confined by court order to a public institution.
If A Beneficiary Dies
When a beneficiary dies, no payment is due for the month of death. For example, if the person dies in June, even if it was on the last day, the payment received in July (which is the June benefit) should be returned. However, if the payment is issued jointly to a husband and wife, the survivor should get in touch with any Social Security office about the payment.
If the beneficiary was using direct deposit, the bank also should be notified of the death so it can return any payments received after death.
When a person getting disability benefits dies, payments to his or her family will be changed to survivors benefits. If the worker received benefits on behalf of children, a new representative payee must be appointed. We need a death certificate or other proof of death to make the change.
If You Give Us False Information
You are responsible for giving us correct information about yourself when you complete an application for benefits and after you start to receive them. If there is any change in the information you gave us, you must notify us as soon as possible.
If we find that you gave us false information on purpose, your benefits will stop. The period of nonpayment of benefits will be six months for the first occurrence; 12 months for the second, and 24 months for the third.
How To Report A Change
You can report a change simply by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. You also can visit any office or mail in the reporting form you received when you applied for benefits. If you send a report by mail, be sure to include:
If you need help in completing a report, the people at any Social Security office will be glad to help you. Or, you can call our toll-free number—1-800-772-1213. Be sure to have your Social Security number handy. If you are getting benefits on somebody else’s record (a spouse, for example), we need his or her Social Security number, too.
Part 3—Reviewing Your Disability Case
Under Social Security law, all disability cases must be reviewed from time to time. This is to make sure that people receiving benefits continue to be disabled and meet all other requirements.
Your benefits generally will continue unless there is strong proof that your condition has medically improved and that you are able to return to work.
Frequency Of Reviews
How often your case is reviewed depends on the severity of your condition and the likelihood of improvement. The frequency can range from six months to seven years. Your award notice shows you when you can expect your first review. Here are general guidelines for reviews:
What Happens During A Review
After you get a letter announcing the review, someone from your Social Security office will contact you to explain the review process and your appeal rights. You will be asked to provide information about any medical treatment you’ve received and any work you might have done.
Then your file will be sent to the state agency that makes disability decisions for Social Security. An evaluation team that includes a disability examiner and a doctor will carefully review your file and request your medical reports. If reports are not complete or current enough, you may be asked to have a special examination or test that we will pay for.
Once a decision is reached, we will send you a letter explaining it. If we decide you are still disabled, your benefits will continue. If we decide you are no longer disabled, you can file an appeal (see next section). If you don’t, your benefits will stop three months after we said your disability ended.
If you don’t agree with a decision we make, you can appeal it. You have 60 days to file a written appeal with any Social Security office. Generally, there are four levels to the appeals process.
If you disagree with the decision at one level, you have 60 days to appeal to the next level until you are satisfied with the decision or have completed the last level of appeal.
You have two special appeal rights when a decision is made that you are no longer disabled.
Part 4—Helping You Return To Work
After you start receiving disability benefits, you may want to try working again. There are special rules called "work incentives" to help you make the transition back to work. These rules continue your cash payments and Medicare while you try to work, help with the extra work expenses you may have as a result of your disability and help with rehabilitation and training that may lead to a new line of work. The following sections provide general information about "work incentives." For more detailed information, ask us for the booklet, Working While Disabled ... How We Can Help (Publication No. 05-10095).
Important Information About Work Incentives
The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 substantially expands opportunities for people with disabilities who want to work.
For more information on this law, call us at 1-800-772-1213 and ask for the factsheet, Ticket To Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 (Publication No. 05-10060). You can also type www.socialsecurity.gov/work to download a copy of the factsheet from our Internet website.
Understanding "Substantial" Work
To understand how work affects your disability benefits, you need to understand how Social Security measures your work. Disability benefits can be paid only if you are unable to do any "substantial" work. The amount of your earnings is the key to determining whether your work is substantial.
As of January 1, 2003, if your wages average more than $800 a month (after allowable deductions), you are generally considered to be performing substantial work.
If your average monthly earnings are between $300 and $800 a month, your work could be considered substantial if the amount and quality of your work are about the same as that done by workers in your area who are not disabled. In making this decision, we consider the time, energy, skill and responsibility involved in your work. Earnings of less than $300 a month are not considered substantial. (See special rules for blind persons who work for more information.)
If your earnings are "subsidized"—that is, if your employer says you are paid more than the reasonable value of your work—the subsidy part of your pay is not counted as earnings in deciding whether you are performing substantial work.
If you are self-employed, your business income alone may not be the best measure of whether you are doing substantial work. Business income may depend on many other factors, such as the economic situation and services of other people. In such cases, more consideration is given to the amount of time you spend in your business than the amount of your income.
Following are the rules that may help you return to work.
Nine-Month Trial Work Period
You may be able to continue to receive benefits for up to nine months while you try to work. The months need not be in a row, but they must take place within a 60-month period. Generally speaking, a "trial work" month is any month in which you earn over $570 in gross wages (regardless of amount of time worked) or spend 40 hours in your own business (regardless of amount of earnings). You will receive your full benefits during this period.
At the end of nine months of trial work, we decide if you are able to do "substantial" work. If you can, your benefits will stop after a three-month adjustment period. If you are not able to work, your payments will continue.
Remember, your trial work period will continue only if you are still disabled. If you recover during a trial work period, your benefits will stop after a three-month adjustment period.
36-Month Extended Period Of Eligibility
If your benefits stop because you have returned to work even though you are still medically disabled, you receive special "benefit protection" for the next 36 months. During that time, you can receive a benefit for any month your earnings are less than $800. You do not have to file a new application, but you do have to notify Social Security. If you are unable to continue working, your benefits continue indefinitely as long as you remain disabled.
Expedited Reinstatement Of Benefits
Effective January 1, 2001, you have an additional 60 months after your benefits terminated because of work to request that they be reinstated without filing a new application. You must be unable to continue working because of your disability. You can receive up to six months of provisional benefits while we review your case to verify that you are still disabled.
If you are working even though you still are disabled, your Medicare coverage may continue for at least 93 months (7 years, 9 months) after the end of the trial work period. After that, you may purchase the coverage with a monthly premium.
Help With Work Expenses
If you need certain equipment or services to help you work, the money you pay for them can be deducted from your earnings in deciding whether you are doing "substantial" work. It does not matter if you also need the items or services for daily living (such as a wheelchair).
The cost of medical equipment, certain attendant care services, prostheses and similar items and services is generally deductible. The cost of drugs or medical services is deductible only if required because of your condition.
When you applied for disability benefits, information about you and your impairment may have been sent to the state vocational rehabilitation agency or other provider of vocational rehabilitation services. If they offer you services and you refuse them without good reason, your monthly benefits may be withheld. If you have not heard from them and are interested in receiving rehabilitation services, you should give them a call.
Your disability benefits will continue while you receive rehabilitation services. Under a special rule, benefits can continue even if you medically recover while participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation or training program. For more information, ask Social Security for the booklet, How Social Security Can Help With Vocational Rehabilitation (Publication No. 05-10050).
If You Become Disabled Again
If you become disabled a second time within five years after your benefits were stopped, your cash payments can begin again with the first full month you are disabled. Another "waiting period" is not required (as it was the first time you applied for Social Security disability benefits). However, you must file a new application. There also is no waiting period if you are a disabled widow or widower or a person disabled before age 22 who becomes disabled again within seven years after benefits ended. If you had Medicare coverage, that also will resume without the 24-month waiting period explained in the section, A Word About Medicare.
Special Rules For Blind Persons Who Work
If you receive disability benefits because of blindness, there are two special rules that may help you when you work.
For More Information
Visit Our Internet Website
If you have a computer, you can find the answers to many of the questions you may have about Social Security on the Internet at www.socialsecurity.gov. Social Security Online provides a variety of informational materials and services, including:
If you don’t have a personal computer, many libraries, churches and other nonprofit organizations provide Internet access services to the public. Call your local library for more information.
Call Our 800 number
You can get information 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays, by calling our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. You can speak to a service representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays. Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month, so, if your business can wait, it’s best to call at other times.
To help us serve you better, please have the following items handy when you call:
We treat all calls confidentially––whether they’re made to our toll-free numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.
Other Booklets Available
Social Security has a number of publications that contain information about other Social Security programs. Contact Social Security to get a free copy of any of these publications—all of which also are available in Spanish. They include: