How Many Hours Can I Work and Receive Social Security Disability?

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Question

Can I work 10 hours or less and still collect Social Security disability benefits?

Answer

For most individuals who are applying for disability, or actively receiving disability benefits, the number of hours worked isn't 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" (SGA). If the SSA considers an applicant or disability recipient's work to be SGA, the agency might deny or terminate benefits. But the SSA generally judges whether a person is working too much (in other words, doing substantial gainful activity) by considering how much money the person makes each month. The SGA level in 2022 is $1,350 per month. (Each year, Social Security decides what amount of monthly earnings it considers to be enough to support oneself. That number becomes the SGA monthly earnings limit.)

Social Security usually counts hours against disability eligibility if the person in question is 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 many hours while receiving no pay (perhaps because they are reinvesting money in their business or perhaps because they haven't yet made a profit). So, in these cases, Social Security looks at the number of hours worked (as well as pay/income received).

Generally, self-employed individuals can currently work up to 45 hours per month (about 10 hours per week) and still be eligible for disability benefits—if they aren't 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 different tests, depending on how long the individual has been receiving benefits, to determine if a business owner is doing work above the SGA level. 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 detailed information about the various tests, see our article on working for yourself while collecting disability.

Updated April 20, 2022

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