Clients often come to us because they’re worried about how much they can earn while they’re out on Social Security disability. As with most legal situations, no two situations are alike. But, in general, there are strict caps on the amount of money an individual on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can earn through “substantial gainful activity” before they lose their disability benefits.
How SSDI Works
SSDI is a program designed for people who can no longer work due to a physical or mental disability. Therefore, the Social Security Administration (SSA) limits the amount an individual can earn.
The rationale is that a person engaged in substantial gainful activity is independent enough to earn a living and does not qualify to receive disability benefits. So, in 2021, if you earn more than $1,310 per month (or $2,190 if you are blind) through work, then you cannot continue to receive disability benefits.
However, there is no limit on unearned income, such as income from investments, interest, child support, or a spouse’s income. Also note that there is no limit on the number of assets an individual can own and still receive SSDI. (There are different rules for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which we’ll discuss below.)
There are exceptions designed to encourage people to seek work without the fear that their attempts to work will be held against them. This includes the Ticket to Work program, which offers job training, work experiences, and other services to help people on disability become self-supporting. The program temporarily waives the substantial gainful activity earnings limits, allowing participants to collect disability benefits while engaging in trial work with the employer.
SSDI recipients are also entitled to a nine-month trial work period during which they can earn more than the substantial gainful activity amount without losing benefits. The months during the trial work period do not need to be consecutive over five years. The SSA considers earnings of more than $940 to be a trial work month. After nine months of earning more than $940, the SSA will allow a three-month grace period before stopping the disability payments. These disability benefits can be reinstated without filing a new disability application if you again stop working because of your disability within 5 years.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
The Social Security rules are different for individuals receiving SSDI and SSI.
SSI is a needs-based program, which means that individuals who have a “countable income” above the federal benefit rate are not eligible for SSI. In 2021, both the federal benefit rate and the SSI countable income limit are $794. Monthly benefits will be reduced in proportion to countable income.
Working While Applying for Disability Benefits
Regardless of your income, the mere fact that you are working may affect your disability claim. At Hunter & Everage we can advise you whether to continue working or quit working when applying for benefits as well as how to maximize your potential to receive benefits. Our experienced team of disability lawyers in Richmond, Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina is waiting for your call.