Can I work 10 hours or less and still collect Social Security disability benefits?
For most individuals who are applying for disability or actively receiving disability benefits, the number of hours worked is not necessarily what counts. Yes, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does examine whether an individual is working and whether this work counts as "substantial gainful activity" (in which case disability benefits would be denied). But the SSA generally judges whether a person is working too much (in other words, doing substantial gainful activity, or SGA) by considering how much money the person makes each month. The SGA level in 2021 is $1,310 per month. (Each year, Social Security establishes the monthly earnings amount that it considers to be self-supporting and that becomes the SGA monthly earnings limit.)
Hours are usually only counted against disability eligibility if the person in question is either self-employed or is the head of a corporation, LLC, or other business. Why? Because a self-employed person or corporate owner can potentially work hours while receiving no pay (perhaps because they are reinvesting money in their business or perhaps because they have not yet made a profit), so Social Security looks at hours worked and pay/income received.
Generally, self-employed individuals may currently work up to 45 hours per month (about 10 hours per week) and still be eligible for disability benefits -- if they are not the only person working for the business and they aren't making substantial income. But it's actually quite a bit more complicated than this. The SSA will apply specific tests, depending on how long the individual has been receiving benefits, to determine if a business owner is doing work above the SGA level. For instance, if you've been collecting disability benefits for more than two years, you can actually make a substantial amount of income as long as you don't work more than 45 hours. For more information, see our article on working for yourself while collecting disability.
By Tim Moore, former Social Security claims examiner
Updated February 9, 2021