Q: I intend to continue working for several years but have a progressive medical problem that is not totally manageable. Eventually this could make my job dangerous to coworkers and me. I am 61 years old and wonder what my Social Security options are.
A: Depending if you continue working or age when you stop, at least three options can be open to you. You can file just for Social Security disability, just for retirement or for both.
Consider filing for Social Security disability if unable to work when still younger than your full retirement age (FRA). Realize that SSA disability definitions are strict and your application might not be approved. Benefits are only for a total disability expected to last at least one year or expected to result in death. In addition to other requirements, a person must be unable to do work done before and is unlikely to adjust to other work. The decision considers your age, remaining capacity for work, education, and work experience.
Depending on your age, filing for Social Security disability can be to your advantage in two ways. First, disability amounts are computed as if you are already at full retirement age (FRA). This results in a higher monthly benefit compared to a reduced retirement amount. Second, you become eligible for Medicare coverage after two years of receiving SSA disability. This might be younger for you than the usual Medicare age of 65.
You will be old enough for Social Security retirement if you continue working until at least age 62. Retirement benefits are easy to start but your monthly amount is permanently reduced if started before full retirement age (FRA). Since you are age 61 now, at age 62 the amount of reduction would be about 25 percent. Reduction amounts change a fraction of a percent for each month based on how close you are to FRA. Charts of approximate reduction rates for different birth years are at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm. Use the online Retirement Estimator to obtain an estimate of your personal FRA amount.
Consider completing applications for both SSA disability and retirement if your health allows continued working until at least close to age 62. As noted, retirement is easy to start. Reduced retirement benefits are less than the amount disability would be yet you would have monthly income coming in. If found eligible for SSA disability, obviously you would not receive both retirement and disability amounts but your existing SSA monthly amount would increase. The revised amount would be approximately your full retirement age (FRA) amount adjusted for any retirement benefits paid before you became eligible for disability. If disability is not approved, your retirement benefit continues as is.
Applying for Social Security benefits is easy. File online at www.socialsecurity.gov or make an appointment by calling the SSA national toll-free number, 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-772-1213) (7:00am-7:00pm local time). You can also call your local office (usually 9:00am-3:30pm). However made, appointments are usually referred to the local office and can be by telephone or in the office.