What Are the Rules for Working After You’re Approved for SSDI or SSI?

Here are a couple of questions we've gotten recently about how much you can work when you're receiving SSDI or SSI disability benefits.

Question: What if I make less than the trial work amount for SSDI?

I was wondering, if I am receiving SSDI and I begin work that is part time, with earnings under $800 per month, does this affect my disability payments? I've read about the trial work period of 9 months, during which a recipient can earn over the $1,130 SGA amount. And I read that any month you earn over $850, the month is counted toward your 9 trial work months. My question is, what about earnings less than the $850 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 $850.

Thank you so much for your help. I'm so confused.

Monique

Answer

You are right in that once you start collecting Social Security disability 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 $850 (in 2018) 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.)

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 continuing disability reviews. During your reviews, the SSA might look at what activities you are doing, especially work activities. If you are working 20 hours per week, say, the agency may be wondering whether you are actually too disabled to work. That said, not many continuing disability reviews result in termination of benefits. To end your benefits, the SSA needs to find that your condition has improved enough so that you are now able to work at the substantial gainful activity level.

Question: Can I work part time while receiving SSI?

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.

Esmerelda

Answer

After you’re approved for SSI and you’ve been receiving benefits for a month, the SSA no longer looks at whether you’re working over the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount. (This is a different rule than for SSDI, Social Security disability benefits.)

But the SSA will take money out of your SSI payment when you are bringing in income. The SSA will subtract your countable income from your monthly SSI amount (which is generally $750 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, the SSA will exclude the first $65 from your income, and then half of the rest. For example, if you are making $765 per month, the SSA will county only $350 (half of $765-$65) as income. Subtracting $350 from $750 will give you an SSI check of $400. 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.

The SSA uses the information you submit about your income to calculate your benefit amount each month. You need to report your income to the SSA no later than the 10th day of the month following the month in which you work. The SSA will generally adjust your benefit in the month after that (two months after the earning were received). If you vastly underestimate your earnings and you are paid your full SSI amount for several months when you shouldn’t have been, the SSA may email you about an overpayment. The SSA will generally state that it will take a portion of your next several monthly payments until the overpayment is paid off.

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