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What is a disability freeze?

A “disability freeze” is a period during which the Social Security Administration (SSA) puts a person’s work and earnings history record on pause.

Work and earnings history are major factors in eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and for Social Security retirement benefits. During a period of disability, a person is usually unable to work or they work fewer hours and earn less pay. For this reason, periods of disability can affect a person’s benefit eligibility as well as the amount of monthly benefits they are entitled to in the future.

The SSA understands this, which is why “disability freeze” status exists. When a person receives SSDI benefits, the SSA allows the individual to maintain “insured status” by putting their work and earnings record under a disability freeze. This prevents periods of no or reduced employment and lower earnings from affecting future eligibility through the SSA’s programs, including disability and retirement benefits.

In some cases, even people who were not receiving SSDI benefits during a period of disability can get a disability freeze that stops periods of no or lower employment and earnings from affecting future Social Security benefits. For this to happen though, the disabled person must request and be approved for a disability freeze.

Additionally, disabled individuals who are near early retirement age (62 years) should understand that applying for early retirement could affect future eligibility and the amount of future benefit payments as well.

If disabled and near retirement age, it is often more beneficial to apply for disability benefits rather than early retirement. This is because the period of SSDI benefits comes with a disability freeze. This in turn prevents the years just prior to reaching full retirement age (65 to 67 years) from being lower earnings years. In other words, the disability freeze protects a person’s future retirement benefits.