I was forced to take Social Security retirement benefits at 62 instead of SSI. I’m 71 now. Did the agency make a mistake?

Social Security rules can be complicated for any beneficiaries, especially when they qualify for more than one type. – Getty Images

Dear MarketWatch,

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Hopefully you can lessen my confusion. For several years before I reached 62, I was disabled and qualified for Supplemental Security Income. It helped immeasurably. When I turned 62, I was forced to enroll in Social Security and my SSI was taken away from me. I was given no choice whatsoever. Even though Social Security paid marginally more than SSI at the time, I would have preferred to remain on SSI until at least full retirement or age 70 if I was financially able to do so.

In the ensuing years of receiving Social Security at or very near the minimum level based upon what my earnings had been over my lifetime (I am 71 now), I kept hearing and reading articles about people who got to keep their disability (SSI) while also receiving full Social Security, at an amount of course based upon their age when they chose to enroll in Social Security.

When I reached Full Retirement Age (age 66) I tried to have my Social Security payments adjusted from what I was forced to accept at age 62, to what I qualified for at 66. Despite spending a lot of time and effort, not to mention the financial impact, I was never able to restore my full retirement payment from SS.

Can you help?

Dear Reader,

Social Security can be very confusing — you’re certainly not alone. And when there are different programs and benefits at play, it gets even more complex.

Social Security’s two main programs are for retirement and disability benefits, the latter of which is known as SSDI. Supplemental Security Income, known as SSI, is a separate benefit, available to people aged 65 or older, or a person with a disability or blindness, who has little or no income or resources. The main difference between the two: SSDI is tied to work history, whereas SSI is not.

You probably already know the intricacies, but here are the eligibility requirements for SSI, according to the Social Security Administration, for any readers unaware:

If you qualify for retirement benefits, then beginning at 62 — which is the earliest a beneficiary can claim for those benefits — you would have to file for other benefits you might be eligible for, according to disability law firm Peña & Bromberg. “In the case of a disabled individual with prior work credits who was denied SSDI but granted SSI, they will be required to file for retirement benefits at the earliest age of eligibility,” the firm said on its site.

Your situation may not have been ideal, but it’s also not unheard of.

“Unfortunately, not only do SSI payments not automatically convert to retirement payments, but the Social Security Administration can essentially force you to apply for early retirement benefits at 62, instead of waiting for your full retirement age,” according to law firm Harris Guidi Rosner. “This can happen if you did not qualify for SSDI benefits, but you did work enough years to qualify for a small retirement benefit.”

As for Social Security Disability Insurance, that benefit automatically switches to a retirement benefit upon Full Retirement Age. “The law does not allow a person to receive both retirement and disability benefits on one earnings record at the same time,” the SSA said. The amount will remain the same, though. Beneficiaries who also receive a reduced widow or widower’s benefit should contact the administration so it can make the proper adjustments, the agency said.

Still, if you think your benefits were calculated incorrectly, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to the Social Security Administration, even if it might take a long time. You could also request an appointment at a local Social Security office. You can call the agency at 1-800-772-1213 (the TTY number for people with hearing and speech impairments is 1-800-325-0778) Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time. The office locator is available on their site.

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