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

How many hours you can work and get disability depends on your hourly pay and whether you’re receiving SSDI or SSI.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

Being disabled doesn't necessarily mean that you can't work at all—just that you can't do "substantial" work. If you can work enough hours to support yourself, the Social Security Administration (SSA) won't consider you disabled.

So, how many hours can you work and still collect Social Security disability benefits? That depends on several factors, including:

  • the type of disability benefits involved
  • your hourly pay rate, and
  • whether you're self-employed.

Whether you're already receiving disability benefits or are still waiting for approval can also affect the answer.

How Many Hours Can a Disabled Person Work?

For employees who are applying for disability or currently receiving benefits, the number of hours worked isn't necessarily what counts. Instead, your eligibility for disability benefits is based on how much you earn from work each month.

(For people who are self-employed or own their own business, Social Security does put a limit on the actual number of hours worked. More on this below.)

If you earn wages or a salary, Social Security will examine how much you earn to decide whether your work constitutes "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). If Social Security considers your work SGA, your benefits might be denied or terminated.

Social Security has an amount that it considers to be "SGA," and it represents Social Security's estimate of how much you need in monthly earnings to support yourself. Each year, the SGA earnings limit is revised to reflect changes in the cost of living—for 2024 is $1,550 per month for an individual. (The SGA limit is higher for disability applicants who are blind.)

While the amount of $1,550 is the earnings threshold, the number of hours that matters for SGA depends on your pay rate. For instance, working 12 hours a week at $30 per hour (for a total of $360) and working 40 hours a week at $9 per hour (for a total of $360) both fall within SGA (just barely). (The monthly limit of $1,550 works out to about $361 a week.) So you have to calculate what your monthly income would be at your hourly rate.

But note that it's generally risky to work 30 to 40 hours a week because Social Security considers this to be full-time work, and if you can work full-time, Social Security won't consider you disabled. This is true even if you earn under $1,550 a month despite working a lot of hours.

What's the Most Hours You Can Work on Disability?

If your application for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits is still pending, you can't work so many hours that you earn over the SGA earnings limit. If you do, Social Security won't consider you disabled and will deny you benefits.

Once you begin collecting disability, however, the rules regarding how much you can work (and earn) differ, depending on the benefit type:

But Social Security doesn't count every penny an SSI recipient earns. If your only income is from working, the SSI program doesn't count the first $85 you earn each month and counts only half of your remaining earned income. Social Security also offers work incentives for SSI recipients, including employment services and deductions for impairment-related work expenses.

When Social Security Counts the Actual Number of Hours Worked

The actual number of hours you work counts for Social Security disability eligibility if you're self-employed or the head of a corporation, LLC, or other business. Why?

Self-employed people and corporate owners can potentially work many hours while receiving no pay. (Perhaps they're reinvesting money in their business or they haven't yet made a profit, so they don't pay themselves much.) So if you're self-employed, Social Security will look at how many hours you worked (along with your income).

Generally, if you're self-employed, you can work up to 45 hours per month without losing eligibility for disability. (20 C.F.R. § 404.447(a)(2).) That works out to just under 10.5 hours per week that you can work in your own business or as a gig worker without losing SSDI. But both of the following must be true:

  • You aren't the only person working for the business, and
  • You aren't making substantial income.

Social Security will apply different tests—depending on how long you've been collecting benefits—to determine if you're doing SGA. If you've been collecting disability for more than two years, you can make a substantial income as long as you don't work over 45 hours. (Find out about the tests Social Security uses to determine SGA when you work for yourself.)

Learn more about how to work without losing your disability benefits.

Updated March 22, 2024

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