When applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, there is an upper limit on how much income you can earn. As of 2021, the limit for disability applicants who are not blind is $1,310, while blind applicants can make up to $2,190 and still receive benefits.
However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to encourage people to return to work and has programs in place that allow them to earn money while receiving disability benefits. At Berger and Green, we understand how complex the rules surrounding your SSD benefits can seem. We are here to help you determine whether you qualify for benefits.
What Is a Substantial Gainful Activity Limit and How Does It Apply to the Benefits?
The SSA sets an upper limit for how much earned income you can make and still fit their definition of disabled. This is the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit. The SSA adjusts this limit annually to account for changes in the cost of living.
In 2021, disabled workers can earn up to $1,310 per month and still qualify under the SGA limit. There is a higher limit for blind workers, who can earn up to $2,190 per month. If you earn above this limit, you may not qualify for SSD benefits. However, if you earn above this level while already receiving SSDI payments, it will not automatically stop your benefits. You may be entitled to a trial work period.
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Do All Types of Earnings Count When Calculating Income for SSD?
While Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and some other need-based programs look at other types of income, the SSA only considers your earnings from working when calculating your income for SSDI qualification. This means that only money you earn as an employee, contractor, or self-employed worker counts toward your SGA limit. The same is true if you decide to return to work while receiving disability. Only earned income counts toward the monthly limits for SSDI.
Some people choose to pursue income in ways other than returning to a traditional job. If you are able to make stock market investments, buy rental property, or sell assets to gain additional income, you can do this without affecting your SSDI benefits or needing to report your financial gains unless you are operating a business.
However, the SSA uses different rules when counting income for SSI purposes. Under this program, you will not qualify for continued benefits if your income increases beyond the SSA’s limits. If you need help understanding which income the SSA considers when awarding benefits, contact us today. Our disability lawyers can help you understand the income requirements for disability programs.
If You Can Return to Work While Receiving SSDI
Not only can you attempt to return to work while drawing disability, but the SSA also offers incentives and special programs to help you.
Ticket to Work Program
The SSA’s Ticket to Work program allows you to continue receiving monthly benefits while also working. You can work in your previous job or even try out a different job in a new industry.
The only thing you need to do to qualify for this program is notify your local Social Security office of your interest in obtaining at Ticket to Work. After you get your ticket, you can begin looking for a job. Then, you will report your earnings to the SSA for as long as you continue to work.
It is vital to report your return to work to the SSA before you earn your first paycheck. If you fail to take this step, the SSA may assume you are no longer disabled and schedule you for a re-examination of your qualifications or cancel your benefits outright.
The Trial Work Period
The first nine months you work and earn more than $940 per month is the trial work period. During this time, there is no cap on how much you can make. Only months where you make at least $940 count toward this nine-month trial work period, and you can subtract any extra expenses related to your impairments from your earnings.
This means if you earn $975 per month but pay $40 every month for adaptive equipment, your earnings are only $935 per month. Since you would not meet the $940 threshold, you could continue to receive benefits indefinitely while working. If you receive a raise and make $950 per month, those months will start to count towards the trial work period.
In jobs where you do not earn a set salary, you may have some months where you exceed the $940 total and some months that you do not reach it. You will remain in the trial work period until you have earned more than $940 for nine months. The nine months do not need to be consecutive to count.
The Extended Period of Eligibility
After your nine-month trial work period expires, you begin the 36-month extended period of eligibility. During this time, you can earn less than the SGA limit ($1,310/month in 2021 for non-blind applicants) and still receive your full monthly SSDI benefits.
The first month you exceed the SGA limit, the SSA no longer considers you disabled. You will get your benefits for that month and the next two months, (called the grace period) and then benefits will stop.
If your monthly income later falls below the SGA limit again, the SSA can restart your benefits without requiring a new application if you are still within the 36-month extended period of eligibility.
Overview of SSI and SSDI
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are similar programs, but each has different requirements. However, both require that you must be disabled. You may qualify for one or both programs.
You must have work credits to qualify for SSDI. By paying FICA taxes, you earn work credits. The number of credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits is dependent on your age. If you are suffering from a physical or mental disability, you may qualify for this program. If you have a terminal illness, you may qualify as well.
There are no work requirements to qualify for SSI. This is a need-based program. You must have a low income and limited resources.
Berger and Green helps people understand what benefits they qualify for. Your application may get denied, but we can help with the appeals process. We work hard to prove that you deserve your benefits.
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Contact Berger and Green Today for a Free Consultation
At Berger and Green, we can explain the SSA’s rules about returning to work. We have 40 years of experience. Call us today at (412) 661-1400 for a free consultation.
A team member will be happy to take your call and inform you of how we can assist you. One of our dedicated lawyers can answer any questions you have and stay in your corner while figuring out your situation.