Ask the Expert: Disability benefits

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The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported its gross domestic product for the New York region rose 0.8 percent in 2011 to $1.28 trillion compared with a year earlier. Photo Credit: iStock

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Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

My husband is unable to work and has been collecting Social Security Disability since 2002. When he's 66, can he get his benefit bumped to what it would have been at full retirement? If not, it seems unfair since the decision to stop working was taken out of his hands. After I retire, can he take a spousal benefit based on my higher earnings, if that results in a higher amount for him?


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Your husband is already receiving an amount equivalent to the benefit he'd have collected at his full retirement age, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments.

Unlike retirement benefits, Social Security disability isn't based on a 35-year work record. That would indeed be unfair to recipients forced to stop working at a young age. Disability benefits are calculated by a different formula, to ensure that recipients will receive a reasonably high benefit with fewer years of work, says Jane Zanca, an agency spokeswoman. When your husband reaches full retirement age, his check will be issued by the Social Security Trust Fund instead of the Disability Fund. But his benefit amount won't change unless he becomes able to work between now and then, and additional earnings boost his full retirement benefit.

Your husband can apply for a spousal benefit based on your work record as soon as you file for Social Security, assuming he's at least 62 at that time. He'll receive his own benefit or the spousal benefit, whichever is the larger amount. If you predecease him, at his full retirement age he'll be entitled to the larger of two amounts, his own benefit or a survivor's benefit equal to 100 percent of your benefit.

The bottom line A Social Security disability benefit is the equivalent of a full retirement benefit.

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