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More Social Security Disability Money if Your Medical Condition Worsens?

Can you get more money from Social Security disability if your physical or mental health condition takes a turn for the worse after you are approved for disability benefits.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is “no.” The amount of your SSDI benefit is based on a calculation that looks to the amount of Social Security taxes you paid into the system. If you are found disabled and unable to work by Social Security, you get a monthly payment based on SSA’s formula. A deterioration of your medical condition will not cause your monthly benefit to increase.

If your medical or mental health condition improves to the point where Social Security concludes that you can perform the duties of a simple, entry-level job, SSA can cut you off, and the termination impacts your total monthly check – there is no partial disability in the Social Security disability system. Continue reading →

Past Due Benefits Paid Up to One Year Prior to Application Date Only

onset date vs. application dateQuestions related to onset dates, application dates and the date of first payment continue to be one of the more confusing elements of Social Security disability.  A recent question from a blog reader incorporates all of these issues so I thought it might be helpful to use this question as the basis of a blog post:


Let’s first discuss the question of what is Robert’s onset date.  Generally, most claimants choose as their onset date the date that they last worked, and that is a reasonable choice.  However, your onset date should be the date that you became unable to work.  If, for example, Robert was laid off in May, 2009, and he suffered a major heart attack in October, 2009, the October date would be more appropriate.  In theory, you can choose an onset date prior to your last day of work, but doing so is an uphill battle and judges are reluctant to approve a claimant for disability for a time period when he was working full or close to full time.

Generally I advise my clients to choose the earliest possible onset date when their medical condition prevented full time work.  Your disability onset should be a date prior to the date that your SSDI insurance runs out. Continue reading →

Paying taxes on Social Security Disability benefits

With only one month to go until April 15th, our focus has quickly shifted to this year’s tax preparations. From W-2s to 1099s, to 1040 mailings to tax preparer solicitations, we are bombarded with reminders of our obligations to both the federal and state governments – whether we like it or not!

While some individuals who receive Social Security Disability pay taxes on their benefits, some do not. Individuals excluded from this rule are those persons receiving SSI. SSI benefits are non-taxable, thus depleting the need to report them on any tax return. However, if a SSI recipient earned additional monies other than SSI benefits, he or she is required to report those monies earned on the appropriate tax form.

Approximately one-third of all beneficiaries receiving benefits are required to pay taxes on money received. Two factors determine whether an individual will be required to pay taxes on any benefits received. The total amount of money earned (SSDI + additional income) and an individual’s filing status (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately) are those things considered. To determine whether your benefits are taxable, compare the base amount representing with filing status with one-half of your benefits plus any additional income, including tax-exempt interest.

Single $25,000.00 (base amount)
Married filing separately $0.00 (base amount)
Married filing jointly $32,000.00 (base amount)

Hypothetical cases incorporating these guidelines are below:

Hypothetical situation # 1

Anne is single and receives SSDI, and over the course of 2009 received $18,000.00 in disability benefits. She received $2,000.00 as additional income in the form of commission from a business that she has. Her combined total income for 2009 is therefore $20,000.00. Since the total amount earned is below the $25,000.00 required for a person-filing single, Anne is not taxed on her disability benefits. *Note: Because Anne’s salary combined was below the set income of $25,000, there was no need to consider one-half of her benefits. The results either way would have been the same.

Hypothetical situation # 2

Daniel, a single 43-year-old male, received $18,000 in disability benefits during the year of 2009. In addition, he earned $18,000.00 as a commercial construction consultant. In this case, to determine whether Daniel would have to pay taxes on his disability benefits, we would need to take one-half of Daniel’s disability benefits (1/2 of $18,000 = $9,000.00) and add those monies to any other income that Daniel received in 2009. In this case, he earned an additional $18,000.00. These two totals combined equal $27,000.00, which is $2,000.00 over the $25,000.00 maximum for individuals whom file single. In this case, Daniel’s benefits would be taxed as well as any other income he earned during 2009.

A rule of thumb, if you are in doubt whether you are required to pay taxes on your benefits, consult with a professional tax preparer. Ignorance is not a defense in law.

Approved Claimant Returns to Work – Are there any Defenses to a Continuing Disability Review or Termination Action by SSA

How should you prepare for a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) or notice of proposed termination?  It depends on how vulnerable you are to losing.   I received the following question from one of my readers:

I received a letter from SSA saying that they are reviewing my current SSDI benefit and possible to end my benefits due to substantial work between 2004 and now.   I would like to have your advisement how I should handle this and what options I can do to keep my SSDI benefits.   I only have Medicare insurance and living with AIDS.   Also, I am deaf.

My response: Social Security is saying that you engaged in “substantial activity” from 2004 to the present.  “Substantial activity” is a term of art and refers to activity that is work or work like activity.   Substantial activity can be work for pay, volunteer work, school or other similar activites.

In a CDR context, Social Security is most likely looking at your earnings record.  As you know, when you work your employer files copies of all W-2’s and 1099’s generated on behalf of employees.  If you were working and your employer was withholding taxes as the law requires there is a written record of your earnings.

I have posted a table on this blog setting out what you can earn and still fall below SGA (substantial gainful activity).   Social Security will look at your earnings month by month to calculate how many months you exceeded SGA.  You could, in theory, could be asked to repay SSA for each month that you received earnings over SGA and also collected SSDI. Continue reading →

What are the Responsibilities of a Representative Payee

Sometimes Social Security judges award benefits but require that benefit payments go to a “representative payee.”   The judge may do this if the claimant is a child, is legally incompetant,  suffers from mental health or medical problems that would make it difficult for the claimant to manage money or in cases where the claimant requests a payee.

Representative payees assume a great deal of responsibility.  They are responsible for handing the claimant’s money and for filing periodic reports with the Social Security Administration.   I have seen at least one case in which the rep payee was sued by Social Security because of an overpayment – the claimant went back to work and lost eligibility for benefits but Social Security did not find out for several years.

It has also been my observation that claimants often become angry with their representative payees when the payee refuses to allocate money for an item or service that the claimant deems necessary but the payee does not.   If you are thinking about serving as a representative payee I advise you to research and carefully consider the obligations of this position.

I recently received a question from a prospective payee named Celeste that touches on some of the issues faced by rep payees:

My friend just recently won her disability case, but the judge said she had to have a payee, which is me. I have a few questions that I would like for you to answer for me if you don’t mind. Continue reading →

Social Security Disability and Child Support

NOTICE: I received so many comments and questions about the issues of child support and Social Security disability that I set up a separate blog about this topic –  Please visit this new blog to post comments and ask questions.


Can you SSDI benefits be seized to pay past due child support?  Yes, according to Social Security Ruling 79-4, the Social Security Administration can withhold a percentage of a claimant’s benefits in an amount equal to what SSA could withhold to pay delinquent income tax debt.

No interest or penalties may be withheld, and before the first withholding may commence, SSA must give the claimant 60 days notice.

There is a question in my mind as to whether SSI benefits may be seized to pay delinquent child support.  The web site states that a “custodial parent has no right to any of the proceeds from SSI.”    Tim Moore, the editor of also states that SSI recipients will not have their monthly disability benefits and past due benefits seize.  According to Mr. Moore, the rationale to protect SSI from levy relates to the nature of SSI as a welfare benefit:  “since SSI is essentially a public welfare benefit and does not derive  not from a claimant’s earnings record, SSI benefits cannot be taken for other purposes, just as food stamps and AFDC funds, likewise, cannot be seized.” Continue reading →

Am I Getting the Right Amount of Money – Understanding Social Security’s Date Calculations

I received a question from one of my blog readers asking about date calculations.   I wish I could tell you that understanding Social Security’s date calculations and acronyms was easy but I can’ t say that.  I will try to offer some explanation about this confusing area.

i got an amended date signed by the judge but the  social ser, office only went back to 2005 when i had the hearing  and not the amended date that i was told they would go too. can you help me undersatnd this date stuff.

My reponse: Sandra, for sake of this blog post, I am going to talk mainly about SSDI benefits.  I’ll touch on SSI but I’ll make SSI date calculations the subject of a later post.

So that everyone is on the same page, when I speak about SSDI, I am talking about Title II disability – the kind of disability that you receive if you have worked and paid money into the system.  In order to qualify for SSDI, you have to be “insured” and have enough credits.  I am going to assume that Sandra has enough credits and that there is no issue regarding her eligibility for SSDI.

When you apply for SSDI, you will be asked about the “onset date” for your disability.  Since you are contending that you no longer have the capacity to work, I usually find that a good onset date is the day that you left your last full time job.   You can voluntarily change your onset date – sometimes I discover that my client chose a date that was many months after he was able to work and I amend the onset date to an earlier date.   In other cases, I find that my client used an onset date that was two or three years before she stopped working – in that case I might recommend that we amend the onset date forward as it is hard to argue that my client is disabled when she was still working full time. Continue reading →

Disability Applicant Asks About Auxiliary Benefits for Her Children

I am disabled due to Avascular necrosis, fibramyalgia, and arthritis, I have undergone 7 surguries in past 4 years and have several more to go. I am an RN, so I made good money before moving to part time work then to being unable to work. My husband makes between 65,000-70,000 a year, we have 2 children ages 2 and 4, will I be able to collect benefits for them?


Jonathan Ginsberg responds: If you are eligible for Title II benefits, then your dependents would be eligible for auxiliary benefits. As you may know, SSA looks at the ten years prior to the onset of your disability to determine eligibility. If you have at least 20 covered quarters during this ten year period, you would be eligible. I have written more about the earnings requirements for Title II here.

You describe “moving to part time work,” but you do not say how long that process took or how it impacted your earnings. What you need to find out here is something called your “date last insured” for Title II. Sometimes you can get this information directly from Social Security by phone, or you can request it in writing using a Form 7004 – Request for Statement of Earnings & Benefits, which you can download at my law firm web site.

If you can show SSA that the onset date for your disability is before your date last insured, you are in good shape for Title II.

My concern here has to do with part time work. As I have noted before on this blog, part time work tends to muddy the water when it comes to disability. SSA often sees things in black and white, and some fact finders (adjudicators or judges) take the position that if you can work part time, you could also work full time at a less demanding job.

On the other hand, the medical problems you describe seem serious enough that you ought to be approved for benefits. Hopefully, you will not have any problems qualifying for Title II as your husband’s income would eliminate your eligibility for Title XVI SSI.

Can a Judgment Creditor Garnish the Checking Account Where My Social Security Direct Deposit Goes?

heresone you probably have not had: I have a checking account just for my social security disablity checks for me and my two little ones for direct deposit i was recently had a judgment placed on me from a credit card company and they say that they can attach my checking account even if that is all that goes into that account what do you suggest i do i can not live with out this income?


Jonathan Ginsberg replies: Christine, unfortunately, I have heard of this type of situation. The law is very clear: except in very limited situations (child support debt, some tax debts) a judgment creditor cannot seize your Social Security money.

You should do two things immediately. First, contact your branch manager and express your extreme displeasure that the bank honored a garnishment against your Social Security account when they clearly know that these accounts are excempt from garnishment.

Second, you should write a strongly worded letter to the judgment creditor and their lawyer advising them that they need to return your funds within five (5) days or else you will pursue all civil and criminal remedies against them.

If you can find a lawyer in your area who handles Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act cases, I would call him/her.

You may also want to call your local Social Security office and/or your elected representative for some assistance.

Please let me know what happens.