Ask Larry

Is It True That If My Wife Gets SSDI Benefits She'll Be Stuck With That Amount Even After She Reaches Her Full Retirement Age?

My wife is disabled. She is 63, as am I. She last worked 6/2020. She left her job early as she no longer was able to perform the job. At the end of 10/2022, we submitted an application for SSDI. As of today the review is about 50% complete. I'm now questioning whether we should continue it or cancel it.

Prior to opening the application, our plan was for both of us to begin SS at 66 years 10 months. She would apply for 1/2 of my SS amount as I will get over twice what she would be getting under her own.

My understanding was when we applied for SSDI that at age 66/10 months we could cancel the SSDI and then assume regular SS payments. Now I'm learning that we can't do that and must continue whatever the monthly amount is for SSDI going forward at 66/10 months. Is that true?

Unfortunately, I cannot run a new projection for her as that option has been suspended while they review her SSDI case! The last one I ran was 10/2022 before the COI increase.

Any help you can provide is appreciated! Thanks!

Hi. Not exactly. It's true that if your wife starts out drawing SSDI benefits she couldn't 'cancel' those benefits and instead 'assume regular' Social Security benefits, but there's almost certainly no downside to that. Even if your wife starts out drawing Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, she could still potentially qualify for higher spousal or survivor benefits later.

Here's how it works. SSDI benefits are calculated at 100% of a person's primary insurance amount (PIA), which is equal to the amount they would receive if they start drawing Social Security retirement benefits at their full retirement age (FRA). So, qualifying for SSDI benefits basically allows a person to start collecting their full Social Security retirement age benefit early. If a person continues to qualify for SSDI benefits until they reach FRA, their SSDI benefits automatically convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits at the same benefit rate.

If your wife is collecting either SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits when you apply for your benefits or die, she could still potentially qualify for additional spousal or survivor benefits if her spousal or survivor rate is higher than her own benefit rate. If that happens, though, your wife wouldn't stop drawing her own benefits and start drawing just spousal or survivor benefits. Instead, Social Security would continue to pay your wife her own benefits plus an additional excess spousal or survivor benefit that would increase her total benefit amount to the higher spousal or survivor rate.

For example, let's say Trudy starts out drawing SSDI benefits at age 63. Trudy's PIA is $1000, so that is the monthly amount that she can be paid in SSDI benefits. When Trudy reaches FRA her SSDI benefits automatically convert to regular Social Security retirement benefits at the same benefit rate. Later on, when Trudy's husband reaches age 70, he applies for his benefits. Trudy's husband's PIA is $3000, but since he waited until age 70 to start collecting his monthly benefit rate is increased by delayed retirement credits (DRC) to $3670.

Since Trudy's husband's PIA is more than twice as much as her PIA, Trudy can claim spousal benefits when her husband claims his benefits. Trudy's spousal benefit amount is then calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of her husband's PIA, which in Trudy's case amounts to $500 (i.e. $3000/2 - $1000). That $500 spousal benefit is then paid in addition to Trudy's own benefit of $1000 to give her a combined monthly benefit rate of $1500, or 50% of her husband's PIA. Furthermore, if Trudy's husband dies before her, her spousal benefit would convert to survivor benefits at a rate of $2670, which is the difference between Trudy's own benefit rate and her husband's full benefit rate (i.e. $3670 - $1000). That would result in Trudy being paid a combined benefit amount of $3670 (i.e. $1000 + $2670), or 100% of her husband's full benefit rate inclusive of his DRCs.

It sounds like you and your wife should strongly consider using our software ( to fully compare and analyze all of your various options so that you can determine the best overall strategy for maximizing your benefits.

Best, Jerry

Jan 31 2023 - 2:14pm
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