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Using a disability freeze to avoid loss of benefits

On Behalf of | Jan 23, 2024 | Social Security Disability

If you have an illness or injury that prevents you from working for over a year, your income is likely to suffer. Low income periods can reduce your future Social Security retirement benefits since they depend partly on your lifetime earnings. They can even minimize disability you might apply for.

However, you may avail yourself of the “disability freeze” offered by Social Security. This prevents the agency from counting your lower or no income years against you, effectively excluding them when calculating your retirement benefits and SSDI.

How retirement benefits get calculated

Social Security averages your 35 highest-earning years, adjusting for historical wage growth to determine your average monthly income. Social Security only counts income up to an annually adjusted maximum. The average monthly income plugs into a formula which determines your basic full retirement age benefit. Your full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67 depending on your birth year.

Without a freeze, your disability years could lower your Social Security benefits, including disability payments. Your years out of work also may jeopardize benefit eligibility. Work history affects qualification, so long disability absences could mean you lack sufficient work credits.

How the disability freeze works

Having Social Security implement a disability freeze means your time in disability will not reduce your disability payments. A freeze usually requires you to have enough work credits and Social Security taxes paid to qualify for SSDI. You must also go through with the normal qualifications for disability, such as proving to Social Security your inability to perform substantial work for at least 12 months due to a medical condition.

If Social Security approves your disability claim, the freeze starts on your onset date. This is when medical evidence shows that you became disabled. The freeze ends two months after disability concludes or the month before your full retirement age. Furthermore, a freeze is sometimes possible even without SSDI. For example, statutory blindness with earnings exceeding the SSDI income limit.

A disability freeze can be a valuable tool when you need to get the most out of your Social Security benefits.