Social Security - Disability and Retirement

Authored By: Colorado Legal Services


What is Social Security? +

Social Security provides disability benefits to insured workers and their dependents. It alsoprovides retirement benefits to insured workers, their dependents, and surviving family members. The Social Security Administration runs the program. For additional answers to questions click here.

How does Social Security (SSA) decide if you are eligible to receive Retirement Benefits? +

They look at your age when you apply for benefits.

  • Full-retirement age has been 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age will gradually increase until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.
  • You may be eligible for reduced retirement benefits beginning at age 62.
  • Until age 70, you will receive a higher benefit if you delay taking benefits.


They look at your employment history.

  • To qualify for retirement benefits you must be 'fully insured'. To be 'fully insured' you must have earned a minimum amount at a Social Security covered job for a minimum amount of years - 10 years for most retirees.

How do they figure out the amount of benefits you will receive? +

  • The amount is determined by how much money the employee and the employer contributed, or were supposed to contribute, to the Social Security fund.
  • Benefits are not influenced by other income.


You can get an estimate of your retirement benefits in several ways:

  • Request a Social Security Statement. Make your request over the Internet (click here) and SSA will mail you a detailed report of your lifetime earnings and an estimate of retirement, disability and dependent benefits.
  • Compute your own benefit estimate using a program that you can download to your PC (click here).
  • Use the SSA online calculator (click here).
  • See the publication Your Retirement Benefit: How It Is Figured (click here)
  • SSA also mails an estimate of benefits each year around the time of your birth date.

What are the requirements for a survivor to receive Social Security benefits? +

In order to receive survivors benefits, the deceased worker must have earned the required number of Social Security credits and survivors must meet the following requirements:

  • A widow or widower may be able to receive full benefits at age 65 if born before 1940. (The age to receive full benefits gradually increases to age 67 for widows and widowers born after 1939.) Reduced widow or widower benefits can be received as early as age 60. If the surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50. For more information on widows, widowers and other survivors, visit Widows, Widowers & Other Survivors.
  • A widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if she or he takes care of the deceased worker's child who is entitled to a child's benefit and is younger than age 16 or disabled.
  • A deceased worker's unmarried children who are younger than age 18 (or upto age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) also can receive benefits. Children can get benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can bepaid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.
  • A deceased worker's dependentparents can receive benefits if they are age 62 or older. (For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased worker would have had toprovide at least one-half of their support.)
  • A deceased worker's former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (as early as age 50 if disabled) can get benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. A former spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for his/her child who is younger than age 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on the deceased worker's work. The child must be the natural or legally adopted child of the deceased worker's former spouse.

What about Disability Benefits? How does Social Security decide if you are eligible to receive Disability Benefits? +

Disability under Social Security for an adult is based on your inability to work because of a medical condition. To be considered disabled:

  • Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.
  • You must be unable to do work you did before and SSA must decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.


Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

  • You must also be both "fully insured" and "disability insured". A younger person can be "fully insured" without working the 10 years required of most retirees (See above). To be "disability insured" you must have worked a minimum number of quarters in the years just prior to becoming disabled. For example, a disabled person age 31 or older must have 20 quarters of coverage (5 years) in the 40 quarters (10 years) reviewed prior to becoming disabled.

Where do I go to apply for benefits? +

To apply for benefits you must go to your local Social Security office. For a listing of offices in Colorado by ZIP Code, click here.

What if I am denied benefits? +

If you are denied any of these benefits you can appeal the decision in a hearing. For more information, click here.




This communication is made available by Colorado Legal Services, Inc., (CLS), as a public service and is issued to inform not to advise. No person should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of an attorney. The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the authors and not those of CLS or its funding sources.


If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, contact an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services: 303-837-1321.



Last Review and Update: Feb 13, 2018