You can work while receiving Social Security disability benefits, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict rules on how much you can earn from your employment. These policies differ between the SSA’s two disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
One of the factors used by the SSA to determine disability is if you make too much money working while drawing Social Security disability, you could trigger the SSA’s threshold for substantial gainful activity (SGA). The threshold is an amount over which you cannot earn and keep your benefits. When you have questions like, “Can I work without it affecting my Social Security Disability or SSI?” you can call a lawyer at our Social Security disability firm.
Working While Receiving SSDI
As an SSDI recipient, you have no limit on the amount of money you can earn from nonwork activities, such as investing. Because SSDI is not a welfare program, you do not have to prove that you are needy or destitute to receive benefits from it. However, the SSA monitors the earned income of SSDI recipients very closely. If you cross the SGA threshold, you risk losing your benefits.
For the year 2018, this threshold stands at $1,180 if you are not blind and $1,970 if you are blind. In general, you must keep your monthly earnings below this amount to continue receiving benefits.
Trial Work Period
However, SSDI has a provision for benefit recipients who want to try to return to work but do not want to risk losing their benefits until they are sure they can support themselves. It is called a trial work period. For nine months, you can earn above the SGA threshold and continue receiving benefits.
If at the end of this trial you do not feel you are capable of returning to work on a long-term basis, you can stop working (or fall back below the threshold) and continue receiving benefits. If you decide to go back to work permanently, your benefits end, but you can have them reinstated without reapplying if at any point during the ensuing five years you become incapable of working again.
Trial Work Month
It is important to note that even though the SGA threshold is $1,180, the SSA considers any month during which you make more than $850 a trial work month. What this means is if you have a part-time job consistently earning $1,000 per month, you are safe because your income falls below the threshold, but after nine months of earnings at this level, you cannot begin a trial work period at a higher amount because your months will have been used up.
Working While Receiving SSI
SSI, because it is a means-tested program for the needy, imposes limits on work and income that are even more rigid than the ones set by SSDI.
For 2018, if you earn countable income above $750 per month, you could lose your SSI benefits. That being said, only specific forms of income are countable, while others you are only required to count partially. So when you wonder, can I work without it affecting my Social Security disability or SSI, the answer is: somewhat.
If, for example, you have one job and it is your only source of income, SSI does not count the first $85 you make each month from that job toward your countable income. Moreover, for income earned beyond $85, SSI only applies 50 percent of it to your countable income.
Example Case of SSI While Working
Suppose you earn $1,385 per month. You already know that you do not have to count the first $85. That leaves $1,300. Of that amount, SSI counts only half, making your countable income $650 per month.
Because this amount falls under SSI’s threshold, you would remain eligible to collect SSI benefits. But SSI has another unique quirk, which is that even if you make below the threshold, it deducts any income you receive from your benefit amount.
The SSI benefit amount for 2018 is the same as the income threshold: $750 per month. That is the amount from which the SSI deducts your $650 per month in countable income as calculated in the example above. So while you still get to draw benefits with a monthly income of $650, you receive only $100 per month from SSI.
Working While Applying and Waiting for Benefits
You can, but it is not the best idea. The SSA maintains strict standards for disability applicants, chief among them the requirement that your medical condition renders you incapable of gainful employment.
Working during the application period, even for less than $1,180 per month, weakens any assertion you make that you are disabled. Every situation is unique, which is why you should consult with your attorney before making any decisions, but in general, working while applying reflects poorly on your claim.