This article was updated on July 19, 2017.
Tens of millions of Americans rely on their Social Security benefits, and many are in a position in which they can't really afford to lose their monthly checks. Yet there are a few situations in which the Social Security Administration can and will take away benefits for certain recipients. Below, we'll go through the situations where you risk losing your Social Security benefits so that you won't get surprised down the road.
1. If you remarry while collecting spousal benefits on an ex-spouse's work history
Many people don't realize that divorced spouses can claim Social Security on their ex-spouse's work history as long as they were married for at least 10 years. This provision provides spousal benefits as long as the ex-spouse is still alive, and then survivor benefits kick in later on. However, if you remarry, you're no longer entitled to receive spousal benefits based on the ex-spouse's history. Instead, you can only collect spousal benefits based on your current spouse's work record.
This can have the effect of taking away Social Security spousal benefits for someone who remarries at 62 or later and has therefore already become eligible to take those benefits. However, note that the same isn't true of ex-spouse survivor benefits. With survivor benefits, you can still claim them even if you remarry, as long as you don't tie the knot again until reaching age 60. Therefore, if you're old enough to claim those survivor benefits in the first place, then remarrying afterward won't affect them, because you'll already have reached that key 60th birthday.
2. When a child reaches a certain age
Certain children and those parents who care for them receive family benefits from Social Security, but those benefits hinge on the age of the child in question. Specifically, children of eligible workers who are under age 18, in high school and no older than 19, or disabled at some point before their 22nd birthday can receive child benefits under Social Security. Similarly, the worker's spouse can get benefits when caring for the worker's child, as long as that child is under age 16 or disabled. Those spousal benefits come irrespective of the spouse's age.
However, when the child is older than the age limit, then those child benefits stop. Moreover, a child's reaching age 16 will typically halt the parent's ability to receive benefits. These provisions assume that the parent won't reach age 62 prior to the child's hitting the maximum permissible age, but that's often the case for families receiving Social Security benefits.
3. When a disability ends
Finally, disability benefit payments under Social Security can stop at any time that the Social Security Administration determines that you're no longer disabled. That can happen in two different ways. First, if you are able to make enough money to pass above a certain threshold earnings amount, then you'll stop getting disability benefits. For 2017, those amounts are $1,170 per month for most people, and $1,950 per month for those who are blind. Typically, you can work for a trial period of up to nine months without losing benefits, but after that, the test can disqualify you.
The other way to lose disability benefits is through improving medical condition. If the SSA decides that your health has gotten better, then it can determine that you're no longer eligible to receive benefits due to a disability. Typically, the SSA does a review at a certain time interval that varies according to the expectation that your condition will or can improve.
Social Security benefits are vital for many people's financial security, but there are ways that you can lose the monthly checks you've already started to receive. By being aware of what can result in having your benefits taken away, you can figure out the best course of action for your particular situation.