9 Reasons You Could Lose Your Social Security Benefits

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your benefits are always guaranteed.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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Social Security benefits are a financial lifesaver for millions of Americans. But as you craft your retirement plan or apply for disability, it’s important to know about the factors that could potentially cause you to lose benefits.

Review these reasons why your benefits could stop or be reduced and consider taking steps to prevent this from happening to you.

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You are on SSI and get a job

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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program for people who have little to no income and resources and who are disabled, blind, or over the age of 65. If you are eligible, you can receive assistance through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

However, if you get a job and make too much income — $1,971 a month for individuals — you could lose your benefit.

You are on SSDI and return to work

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) covers those who are disabled and who also have enough of a work history to be eligible for the program.

However, your SSDI benefits could end if you are able to work or return to work. The Social Security Administration does give you the chance to return to work and see how things go before benefits end.

Initially, you will get nine months of a continued benefit as you work. This period might be extended by another three years in some cases.

You claim benefits early

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You can start claiming Social Security benefits when you are 62 years old. However, if you do so, your monthly benefit will be smaller than if you wait until your full retirement age, which is 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later.

Although you don’t technically “lose” your benefits for claiming early, your monthly benefit amount will be permanently smaller.

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You divorce your spouse

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Divorce can affect spousal benefits. You might still receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, but only if you meet certain conditions.

Such conditions include having been married to your original spouse for at least 10 years and not being married to a different person today.

You claim benefits before full retirement age and keep working

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If you claim benefits prior to your full retirement age but continue to work, your monthly benefit could be temporarily reduced.

Those who work after claiming Social Security prior to full retirement age cannot earn more than $22,320 in 2024 without facing a penalty. For any earnings above that amount, the SSA will deduct $1 from your Social Security check for every $2 you earn.

Full retirement age is between 66 and 67 years old, depending on when you were born. For everyone born in 1960 or later, full retirement age is 67.

The good news is that once you reach full retirement age, the SSA will begin to pay back the money it deducted earlier. And upon reaching full retirement age, you can work as much as you like without incurring any penalty.

Your income in retirement is too high

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Some people are shocked to find that they owe taxes on their Social Security income. This can happen when your overall income in retirement is too high.

The limit before taxes kick in is currently $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for couples filing jointly.

In addition, some states impose their own taxes on Social Security income, which could further shrink the size of your benefit.

You are sentenced to time in prison

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If you are in jail or prison for more than 30 days, your Social Security income could be suspended until your incarceration ends.

If you’re in jail or prison for more than a year, you also might have your SSI benefits terminated and will need to contact the SSA when your sentence is over so you can reapply for benefits.

You collect Social Security as a minor, then turn 18

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There are some circumstances when children under the age of 18 can collect Social Security if their parents receive retirement or disability benefits. Children also may be eligible for a survivor benefit if a parent dies.

However, in most cases, benefits stop when the child turns 18.

You fail to report life changes or commit fraud

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As you might expect, the SSA takes fraud seriously. Lying about your eligibility or merely failing to report life changes in a timely manner could cause you to lose benefits.

It’s also possible that the SSA could place sanctions against your payments. This could result in a loss of six, 12 or 24 months of benefits, jeopardizing your dreams of a stress-free retirement.

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Bottom line

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Social Security is an important benefit not only for retirees but also for disabled Americans and others.

However, your benefit is not always guaranteed. So, take a look at where you stand financially and determine whether you could survive without this program.

Then, try to avoid miscues that could result in Social Security income suddenly vanishing.

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Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.