What Will Cause Your Social Security Disability Benefits to Stop?

If you start working, your medical condition improves, or you change your living situation, your disability benefits could be terminated.

By , J.D. University of Missouri School of Law
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney UC Law San Francisco
Updated 6/21/2024

If you're receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, it's important to understand the circumstances in which your disability benefits might be terminated. Returning to work and experiencing medical improvement are two of the most common reasons, but several other major life changes could also cause your benefits to stop.

When Does Social Security Disability Stop Because of Work?

Because Social Security's definition of disability includes being unable to work due to medical impairments, working while receiving disability benefits can raise red flags with the Social Security Administration (SSA).

When Could Working Cause Your SSDI to End?

Individuals receiving SSDI are allowed one nine-month trial work period (TWP) to experiment with working while still drawing their full monthly benefits. In 2024, monthly earnings over $1,110 will trigger a trial work period month. The nine months can occur over a 60-month period; the months need not be consecutive.

Once you've exhausted the nine months of your TWP, you'll no longer receive disability benefits for any month you earn over the "substantial gainful activity" threshold ($1,550 in 2024). (Be sure you're clear on the details regarding trial work periods before you begin working.)

Will SSI Be Taken Away If You Work?

SSI recipients will lose disability benefits if their income or assets exceed the eligibility thresholds. In 2024, the income limit is $943 per month for individuals and $1,415 for couples (both collecting SSI). So, if your income from working causes you to exceed these limits, you can lose your SSI disability benefits.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't count all your income toward the limit—ignoring more than half of your wages when counting your income for SSI eligibility. But some unearned income, including "in-kind" income like free housing or food, does count against the limit. (Learn more about how Social Security counts income for SSI.)

And if someone in your family begins earning more, it can affect another family member's SSI benefits. For instance, an increase in parental income can affect a child's SSI benefits. And because some of your spouse's income is "deemed" to you when you're receiving SSI, your benefits might be reduced if your spouse gets a pay raise.

But note that Social Security can't cut off your SSI payments without notice. The SSA must send you a letter explaining that your benefits will be reduced or suspended and how to appeal the decision. You have 60 days to "request reconsideration" and 10 days to request that your SSI benefits continue at your usual rate while you wait for the results of the reconsideration.

(Learn more about appealing a Social Security decision.)

Can You Lose Your Disability Benefits If Your Medical Condition Improves?

If you experience medical improvement that would allow you to go back to work, Social Security can decide to terminate your disability benefits. The SSA makes this determination through a process known as a continuing disability review (CDR).

If you're selected to undergo a CDR, you'll receive a notice in the mail from Social Security stating that your claim is being reviewed. You'll be asked to provide information about your recent medical treatment and daily activities. A disability claims examiner will review your medical records to decide whether you've had medical improvement since the date you were found to be disabled.

If the claims examiner doesn't find medical improvement, the CDR will be closed, and your benefits will continue. If the claims examiner finds that your condition has improved and that you're able to work, Social Security will no longer consider you disabled, and your disability will end.

Can I Appeal if Social Security Stopped My Benefits After a CDR?

Yes, you have 60 days to request an appeal, which consists of a relatively informal hearing before a Hearing Officer. At this hearing, you can present additional evidence, call witnesses, and testify about your condition.

If the Hearing Officer finds that your disability has ended, you have 60 days to ask for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). But note that you have only 10 days from the hearing officer's decision to ask that your benefits continue while your ALJ hearing is pending.

How Often Do CDRs Occur?

While it's impossible to predict with any certainty whether or when a CDR will occur, CDRs are usually scheduled every three years or seven years, depending on:

  • the severity of your condition, and
  • your prospects for having medical improvement.

Generally, the younger you are, the more likely you'll have to go through a CDR. Significant earnings can also trigger a CDR, although earnings that occur during a trial work period for SSDI or a ticket to work period for SSI should not cause a review.

Sometimes, when an ALJ awards benefits, the judge will recommend a review after a certain amount of time (often 12 months) because medical improvement is expected. While this doesn't always guarantee a CDR will take place, you should certainly be prepared for it by:

  • continuing to get medical care
  • taking prescribed medications, and
  • following your doctor's treatment recommendations.

What Else Could Cause You to Lose Your Disability Benefits?

Several other factors can cause your disability benefits to end, including reaching a certain age or changes in your living arrangements.

A Disabled Child Turning 18 Can Lose SSI Benefits

Social Security automatically reviews the cases of children receiving SSI disability when they turn 18. The SSA will reevaluate the child's impairments using the adult disability standards. That means to continue to qualify for SSI disability, the child must either:

SSI disability benefits will end when an 18-year-old fails to meet the adult disability standard, although this decision—like all Social Security decisions—can be appealed.

SSDI Ends When You Reach Full Retirement Age

Once you reach the full Social Security retirement age, your disability benefits are automatically converted into Social Security retirement payments. Any money you earn from working during or after the month you reach full retirement age won't reduce your Social Security retirement benefit.

Significant Changes in Living Situation Affect SSI

If you move in with family or friends and arent paying for rent, food, or both, your SSI benefit is likely to be lowered because Social Security counts free room and board as in-kind income.

Entering a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital might also affect your eligibility for SSI, but it depends on the kind of facility and how long you're staying. If you can demonstrate to Social Security that you'll be institutionalized for 90 days or less, your SSI benefits can continue. Notify Social Security of your changed living situation as soon as possible.

Getting Married Can Cause Your SSI Benefits to Stop

Because SSI is a needs-based program with strict income limits, getting married can affect your eligibility and benefit amount. If your new spouse has a moderate income or your combined assets exceed the $3,000 couple's asset limit, you can lose your SSI disability benefits.

Note that marrying someone won't affect your SSDI benefits, regardless of your new spouse's income or assets.

SSI Can Be Taken Away If You Go Above the Asset Limit

If you exceed the SSI asset limit—even unintentionally—you can lose your benefits. The home you live in and one car generally don't count toward SSI's $2,000 individual or $3,000 couple's limit. But other high-value items can put you over the limit, such as:

  • receiving a large cash gift
  • owning a life insurance policy with a cash value
  • owning an extra car or truck, or
  • getting an inheritance, including cash, real estate, or other valuables.

Social Security Benefits Will Be Suspended If You're Incarcerated

Social Security will stop paying SSDi or SSI disability benefits when a person is incarcerated 30 days or more. SSI recipients who are incarcerated for at least 12 months in a row will need to re-apply for benefits once they're released.

Social Security Disability Ends When the Beneficiary Dies

The death of a disability recipient ("beneficiary") will terminate both SSI and SSDI benefits. However, SSDI dependents benefits paid to the beneficiary's family members don't have to end. Instead, they may convert to survivor benefits, including dependent benefits paid to the beneficiary's:

  • spouse or ex-spouse
  • minor or disabled children, and
  • financially dependent parents.

(Learn more about who can get Social Security survivor benefits.)

When Do SSDI Dependent or Survivor Benefits End?

If you're receiving dependent or survivor benefits based on your parent's work record and you turn 18 (19 if still in high school) or get married (in most cases), Social Security will stop paying your SSDI benefits. But if you qualify as a disabled adult child, your dependent or survivor benefits can continue regardless of age.

Spouses can lose SSDI survivor benefits if they remarry before age 60 (50 if disabled). Social Security will stop an ex-spouse's dependent or survivor benefits if the ex remarries at any age.

If you're receiving SSDI survivor benefits because you care for your late spouse's child, your mother's or father's benefits will end when the child turns 17 (unless the child is disabled). And Social Security will stop your mother's or father's benefits if you remarry (at any age).

What to Do If Your Case Is Being Reviewed

If you receive a notice from Social Security that your case is being reviewed, you might want to contact the attorney who helped you with your application or appeal (if you had one). An attorney can review your case to see what issues, if any, would cause you to lose your disability benefits and help you address the issues.

While a CDR or case review can be a frightening prospect, having a knowledgeable representative on your side will increase your chances of keeping your much-needed benefits.

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