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Unexpected disability can wreck a retirement plan

As they get older, Americans must think about saving up for retirement, and many come up with a simple plan: Work longer. Many Americans are working past age 65. Staying in the workforce longer can, of course, help a person to save up more money. There are also tax advantages to this strategy, as workers can save their money in a 401(k) or other retirement account that avoids or defers taxation.

One problem with this strategy is that it leaves people unprepared for the possibility that they might become disabled before they reach the target age when they planned to retire.

An injury or other medical condition can throw a retirement strategy into chaos, and the longer one works, the more likely an injury or other medical condition will interfere with a worker's life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75% of Americans 65 and older suffer from more than one chronic condition, including high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes.

These conditions might be manageable on their own, but they take a toll. In a study for Mathematica's Center for Studying Disability Policy, researchers looked at workers who became disabled in their 50s and early 60s and found that their earnings declined by an average of 50% within two years of becoming disabled.

Social Security Disability Insurance provides benefits for workers who are no longer able to work because of an injury or other medical condition. However, getting these benefits is not easy. The application process is long and awkward, and most applicants are denied the first time they try.

An attorney with experience in Social Security Disability can help people navigate the bureaucracy and give them advice about how to strengthen their claims. When necessary, an attorney can argue powerfully on a client's behalf at hearings or appeals.

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