Thousands Lose Their Social Security Benefits Each Year. Here's How It Can Happen

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While Social Security benefits can be a lifeline for people in need of financial support, those payments are surprisingly vulnerable. About 70,00 Social Security recipients see their benefits revoked each year, according to a June 8 report from NPR

Whether you’re on Social SecuritySocial Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, you could lose your monthly benefits in the case of certain events, some of which might be beyond your control. In some cases, such as increased income, it might be worth losing your benefits to earn more money. The type of benefits you’re receiving also matters, which we’ll explain below.

Keep reading to find out how you could potentially lose your Social Security benefits. For more, here’s what to do if your Social Security payment is late and what to know about the future of your benefits.

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You start making too much money

If you get a new job while receiving benefits, it could affect the amount of Social Security money you get each month. Here’s what to know.

SSI:

Getting a job could potentially cause your SSI benefits to end, according to the Social Security Administration. It depends on how much money you’re making. Generally, SSI eligibility is for people who make $1,971 or less each month. If your income exceeds that amount, you’ll no longer qualify for benefits.

Note that if you’re working, $1 will be reduced from your payment for every $2 you make. For 2024, the maximum amount you could receive each month is $943, or $1,415 for a couple.

SSDI:

For SSDI beneficiaries, you can go back to work for up to nine months without losing your benefits. This is the SSA’s nine-month trial work period. If after that time you earn $1,550 or more per month, the SSA will consider that substantial gainful activity. In that case, your benefits will be suspended for the months your earnings are over the substantial amount during the 36-month re-entitlement period after you complete the TWP.

If your earnings fall below the substantial amount during that 36-month window, your benefits can be reinstated. Benefits will end if your earnings are above the substantial amount after the 36-month re-entitlement period ends.

You go to jail or prison

If you’re in jail or prison longer than 30 days, your Social Security and SSI benefits can be suspended.  And once you’re out of incarceration, you aren’t automatically entitled to your benefits again. Here’s how it breaks down.

Social Security/SSDI:

If you receive Social Security and your benefits have been suspended because you’ve been sentenced to jail or prison, your benefits can be reinstated starting the month following the month of your release. For example, if you were released in May, your benefits could start again in June.

Note: Benefits your spouse or children receive will continue as long as they remain eligible.

SSI:

If you receive SSI, your benefits will be suspended during the time you’re in prison. Your payments can start again the month you’re released, unlike with Social Security benefits. The money you receive that month would be a partial payment, depending on your release date. 

There’s a caveat. If your jail or prison time lasts longer than 12 consecutive months, your SSI benefits will be terminated. You’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to file a new application once you’re released.

You become divorced

If you’re recently divorced or planning to be soon, there are a few provisions that would stop you from getting your ex-spouse’s Social Security retirement benefits.

  • You weren’t married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or longer.
  • You’re married to a different person now, so you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse anymore. This changes if your current marriage ends due to annulment, divorce or death.
  • You’re entitled to benefits on your own behalf, and your benefit amount is more than what your ex-spouse’s benefits are.

For more, here’s a Social Security guide to all of your benefits. Also, here’s how to find out how much Social Security money you could receive when you retire.