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Are Social Security disability benefits 'real' Social Security?

Tom Margenau served as national director of the Social Security Administration's public information office for many years. Now retired, Margenau writes the nationally syndicated column "Social Security and You." If there's one question Margenau gets a lot, it's whether Social Security disability counts as "real" Social Security benefits.

His unqualified answer is yes. The three main benefits programs offered by the SSA are Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, and they're just different programs under the same law, the Social Security Act.

Why does that matter? Well, some people write in to Margenau wondering if Social Security disability benefits are cut off at retirement age. Others worry that their Social Security disability benefits don't give them the same right to survivor, dependent child, or other ancillary benefits the retirement program does.

What happens to your Social Security disability benefits at retirement age?

When you turn 66, the SSA simply moves your account from the heading "Social Security disability" to the heading "Social Security retirement." Why? It's just a bookkeeping issue. The two programs were created under the same law, but they're paid out of different bank accounts. Social Security disability is paid out o the "Disability Insurance" trust fund, while Social Security retirement is paid out of the "Old Age and Survivors Insurance" trust fund.

The amount of your benefits doesn't change. The vast majority of the time, people go through the changeover without noticing anything except for notifications from the SSA. The same amount of money shows up in your bank account because the Social Security disability benefit rate is the same as the full retirement benefit rate.

It's great to have an insider's view of the Social Security programs, isn't it? Our firm also has a page of frequently asked questions about Social Security Disability Insurance. If you have specific questions about your situation, or if you're considering applying for Social Security disability benefits, one of our attorneys would be happy to help.

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