What Are the Rules for Working While on Social Security Disability?

In certain circumstances, working is not against Social Security's rules.

Question

I am receiving Social Security disability benefits, but a friend has made me a job offer. It wouldn't be enough to sustain me alone, but I could definitely use the extra income and it's a job I think I could do. How does Social Security handle things like this?

Answer

Working while on disability may seem counterintuitive since the purpose of disability benefits is to provide income for people who cannot work. However, in certain circumstances, working is not against Social Security's rules.

First, you are allowed to make less than $1,310 (the SGA level for 2021) per month and still collect Social Security disability benefits, as long as you continue to meet Social Security's definition of disabled. (This answer addresses SSDI; the amount of income you can make and continue to qualify for SSI is different.)

This SGA limit allows many disability recipients to do some part-time work. For example, if you were to work 16 hours a week making $16 per hour, your monthly income would be about $1,100, which falls under the SGA amount. As long as you haven't improved enough medically to work full time (since you were approved for benefits), you should be able to continue receiving benefits.

Second, Social Security has programs that allow you to continue to receive disability insurance benefits while encouraging you to try getting back into the workforce. You can attempt to work, even making over the SGA amount, during something called the "trial work period," which allows you to work for a set period of time with no interruption to your benefits at at all.

You may work for a total of nine months out of a consecutive 60-month period of time and those nine months will count as the trial work period. (If you work nine total months out of five years, even if those nine months aren't all together, you'll have used up your trial period.) At the end of the period, your benefits may stop if you continue to work and Social Security finds that your work is above the SGA level.

Updated February 16, 2021

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