I was wondering, if I'm receiving SSDI and I begin working part time, with income under $800 per month, does this affect my disability payments? I've read about the trial work period of nine months, where you can earn over the substantial gainful activity amount. And I read that any month you earn over $970, the month is counted toward your nine trial work months. My question is, what about months where you earn less than $970 per month?
I know I will still have to report my earnings, but I'm not sure what would happen if I work and earn under $970 each month.
You are right in that once you start collecting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you are entitled to nine trial work months where you can make over the amount that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). Any month in which you make more than $970 (in 2022) counts as one of your nine trial work months. (Without the trial work period, in any month you made over the SGA amount, Social Security would consider you able to work and could terminate your benefits.)
You can also work part time without needing to use the trial work period. If you're making only $800 per month, none of those months will count as a trial work month, and this income won't affect your SSDI benefit at all. Technically, you can continue to make that amount indefinitely.
Keep in mind, however, that you still will have to go through continuing disability reviews. Most claims go through a review every one, three or seven years. During your continuing reviews, Social Security might look at what activities you're doing, especially work activities. If you're working 20 hours per week, say, for an extended period of time, the agency might wonder if you're actually able to work full time.
That said, not many continuing disability reviews result in the termination of benefits. To end your benefits, Social Security needs to find that your medical condition has improved, and it has improved so much that you are now able to work at the substantial gainful activity level. Read about the standard Social Security uses in continuing reviews: the medical improvement standard.
How much am I able to work and not have my disability benefits stopped? I work some phone order shifts during the holiday rush period, so my pay isn't regular. Some months I make $700, but most months I make nothing. There's no way I could keep it up all year, but when I'm having good days and weeks, I can work a bit.
After you're approved for SSI and you've been receiving benefits for a month, Social Security no longer looks at whether you're working over the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount. (This is a different rule than for SSDI, which stands for Social Security disability insurance.)
But, if you do work part time and bring in income while you're receiving SSI, Social Security will take money out of your SSI payment. The agency will subtract your "countable income" from your monthly SSI amount (which is generally $841 per month, although in some states, the amount is higher).
The good news is that less than half of the income you make by working is counted against you and subtracted from your SSI check. Specifically, Social Security will exclude the first $65 from your income, and then half of the rest. For example, if you're making $765 per month, the SSA will county only $350 (half of $765-$65) as income. Subtracting that $350 from $841 will give you an SSI check of $491. Even though your SSI check is lowered, you end up having more income per month when you put your SSI check and your income together ($491 plus $765).
Social Security uses the information you submit about your income to recalculate your benefit amount each month. You need to report your income to Social Security no later than the 10th day of the month following the month in which you work. Social Security will generally adjust your benefit in the month after that (two months after the earnings were received).
If you underestimate your earnings and you are paid your full SSI amount for several months when you shouldn't have been, Social Security will probably email you about an overpayment. Social Security will take a portion (generally 10%) of your next several monthly payments until the overpayment is paid off.
Updated February 25, 2022