Whether you’re considering applying for disability or already receiving payment, if you can make some money, you may want to do so. Given the fact that social security disability insurance only pays a percentage of your previous salary, it’s natural to wonder if you could earn some supplemental income and still claim benefits.
If so, how much can I earn while on social security disability? Below we’ll explore those answers.
What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
Per the Social Security Administration’s official website SSA.gov, SSDI benefits pay a person who is disabled or a family member (in some cases) cash benefits. In order to qualify for these insurance benefits, you must have worked a minimum number of years, with each year earning work credits. On this work, you must have paid social security taxes — through your employer or in the form of self-employment taxes.
To apply for SSDI benefits, you will submit medical records and other information. Specialized personnel will review your application to determine if you meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
Who Is SSDI For? SSDI Is for People Who Cannot Earn a Living
SSDI is intended for people who cannot earn a living because of a mental or physical disability. Unlike those on short-term disability insurance, when you receive social security benefits, it means that you are likely to be unable to earn a living over an extended period. This doesn’t, however, completely preclude you from earning some income if you are able to do so.
In fact, it’s encouraged through work incentives.
For example, you may have suffered a personal injury, involving the loss of your hand. Whether you need to type or operate machinery, if you use your hands to work, this may significantly impact your ability to make a living. You may qualify for SSDI benefits.
Even if you can earn some additional income without losing your benefits, it’s important to remember that this is an entitlement program designed to help people who cannot make a living. It doesn’t replace all income lost, and taking disability may require a reduction in your standard of living.
Suppose you are capable of making a living despite your disability. In that case, social security disability benefits are not intended for you, and you should leave them for those who really need them. The goal should always be to make a living income if you are able and accept the help, knowing you paid for it through your social security taxes, if you cannot.
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) & Disability Benefits
While receiving SSDI benefits, you may engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) but only up to a limit. For 2022, that SGA limit is $1350 for most people. Those who are statutorily blind may make $2260. For blind individuals, this SGA does not apply to supplemental security insurance SSI benefits, a different type of social security. However, for non-blind people, the SGA limit applies to both SSI and Social Security retirement (not usually applicable). In neither case your spouse’s income will not impact your qualification for SSDI benefits.
This seems rather straightforward, but here’s where this can get a little more complex.
What Are Social Security Work Incentives / Trial Work Period?
If a sudden — or suddenly worsening — condition led to your disability, then applying for disability benefits may have seemed your only or best option at the time. However, once you’ve become accustomed to your disability and have had an opportunity to explore other options, it may look like you can return to work.
With that said, many people are afraid that they may not be able to make an adequate income, so they don’t attempt to do it despite wanting to work. What if they lose their benefits and can’t get them back? That’s a valid fear.
For this reason, SSA has created an incentive for you to try to work after you start receiving benefits. It’s called the “trial work period“. During this time, you may earn income and receive benefits, as you test your ability to make more income through working versus receiving benefits.
You can complete a trial work period for up to nine consecutive or non-consecutive months over a rolling 60-month timeframe before you’re considered to “not have a disability” requiring benefits. In any of these work months, if you exceed $970 (in 2022), then it counts toward the nine months in 5 years.
In other words, even though a non-blind person with a disability can earn $1350 in additional income from gainful employment and stay on disability, you shouldn’t expect that you’ll be allowed to reach this limit every month. For all but nine months in 60 months, the actual limit is $970.
It’s also important to note here, that even if you have no plans to get off disability, you can still take advantage of this trial work period when it makes sense for you. For example, you do some gig work for a couple of months, so you can buy your spouse a nice birthday present you could normally not afford. It’s not a regular thing, and you don’t plan to make a job out of it, but you have an opportunity to make some money within your abilities and do something nice for someone you love. You earn between $970 and $1350 in a month for this work. This won’t get you immediately kicked off disability because it will be treated as a trial work period.
What If Your Countable Income Goes Above the SSI Income Limit?
Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) pays out based on financial need and is not the same as SSDI, although overlap in those who qualify exists. SSI is for people who are:
But they also have little or no income or financial assets. We fund it through taxes, not someone’s income, so adults with disabilities who have never worked may qualify for it.
It’s not intended to replace income, but to help a person cover the basics when they don’t have the means to do so:
Your countable assets (resource limit) can’t exceed $2000 for an individual or $3000 for a couple to get SSI. However, many assets are not counted like your:
- Primary residence
- ABLE accounts
- Primary vehicle if you or a family member use it for transportation
The SSI countable income limit is the same as SSDI (discussed above). However, if you are not blind, SSI and the Social Security you get at retirement age will count toward your income limit. Be sure to subtract these amounts to determine the upper limit for your monthly income from gainful employment.
You can use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool on SSA.gov to determine what you or a loved one may qualify for SSDI, SSI or both.
How Does Self-Employed Income Impact SSDI & SGA?
If you are self-employed, don’t forget to deduct work expenses on your Schedule C, home office, and depreciation, as applicable. These reduce your taxable income. However, the SSA does state it looks at self-employed income differently. They do not “consider income alone” when deciding if you qualify for disability or are entitled to stay on disability because self-employed income can be delayed. They will also “evaluate your work activity based on the value of your services to the business, regardless of whether you receive an immediate income for your services.” In other words, knowing your income limit can get tricky for some.
How Much Money Can You Make on Social Security Disability?
Using the above information, we can now summarize to answer this question. You can make up to $970 per month on an ongoing basis without worrying about losing your disability benefits. However, you can make over this amount for nine months in a rolling 60 month period in what is considered a trial work period.
But don’t forget about SSI. Suppose you also receive SSI or regular Social Security Retirement income. In that case, those amounts count as income unless you’re blind, so you should subtract those amounts from the $970/mo or $1350/mo, depending on your disability income earning strategy. This allows you to determine how much work income you can make without threatening your benefits.
What Are the Income Limits in Order to Not Qualify for Benefits?
If you are currently exceeding the SGA limit of $1350/mo for the year after the disability occurred, then you will not be approved for disability because you won’t qualify. But let’s say that you did qualify and started receiving benefits. Now, you must be careful not to exceed the income limit calculated above, so you can continue to receive your disability benefits. Unless, of course, you intend to return to full-time gainful activity as an employee or self-employed person — if you’re capable of doing so.
Most people asking the question, “How much can I earn while on social security disability” want to stay on disability but also want to take advantage of the trial work incentive to increase their income. That’s certainly okay, but if you choose to do this, it’s vital that you know your upper limit. While the upper limit is the same for most people, if you receive SSI, social security retirement income, or are self-employed, you have some math to do, and you don’t want to get that math wrong. It’s certainly advisable to discuss this with a disability lawyer, and they may offer a free consultation.