When applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, there is an upper limit on how much income you can earn. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to encourage people to return to work and has programs in place that allow you to earn money while receiving disability benefits.
At Berger and Green, we understand how complex the rules surrounding your SSD benefits can seem.
What is a substantial gainful activity limit and how does it apply to my 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 2017, disabled workers can earn up to $1,170 per month and still qualify under the SGA limit. There is a higher limit for blind workers, who can earn up to $1,950 per month. If you earn above this limit, you are unlikely to 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 my income for SSDI?
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.
The SSA uses different rules when counting income for SSI purposes, however. 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 the SSDI and SSI programs.
Can I return to work while receiving SSDI?
Not only can you attempt to return to work while drawing disability, the SSA 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 $840 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 $840 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 $875 per month but pay $40 every month for adaptive equipment, your earnings are only $835 per month. Since you would not meet the $840 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 $840 total and some months that you do not reach it. You will remain in the trial work period until you have earned more than $840 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 up to the SGA limit ($1,170/month in 2017) 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.
At Berger and Green, we can explain the SSA’s rules about returning to work. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule a consultation.