How much you can earn while on disability is different for individuals currently getting SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) benefits and those getting SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. For a discussion of how much you can work when first applying for benefits, see our section on working and eligibility for Social Security disability. This article is about how working affects people who are currently receiving SSDI benefits, versus how working affects people who are currently receiving SSI benefits.
Generally, SSDI recipients can't do what's considered "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) and continue to receive disability benefits. In a nutshell, doing SGA means you're working and making more than $1,350 per month in 2022 (or $2,260 if you're blind). So that's how much you can make in 2022 without affecting your disability benefits. And, you can deduct disability-related work expenses from that total. For more information, see our article on SSDI income limits.
But, to encourage SSDI recipients to go back to work, Social Security has created some exceptions to this rule. SSDI recipients are entitled to a "trial work period" during which they can make more than the SGA amount without losing benefits.
Trial work period. For a nine-month trial work period, SSDI recipients are entitled to test their ability to work and continue to receive full benefits regardless of whether they make more than the SGA amount. For 2022, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers any month where a person has a monthly income of more than $970 to be a trial work month. If you're self-employed, any month where you work more than 80 hours can also be considered a trial work month.
Extended period of eligibility. Once you've completed the nine-month trial work period (the months don't need to be consecutive), you can still receive SSDI for any month where your earnings fall below the SGA level, for a period of 36 months. This three-year period is called the "extended period of eligibility." In other words, if you earn less than $1,350 in any month during this period, you will get benefits, but if you earn more than $1,350 in any month, you won't get disability benefits for that month (after a three-month grace period).
Expedited reinstatement. If Social Security stops your SSDI payments because of SGA, the agency gives you five years during which your benefits can be reinstated if you again stop working because of your disability. During this five-year period, called the "expedited reinstatement period," the SSA won't require you to file a new disability application to get benefits.
For more information, see our article on the trial work period, the extended period of eligibility, and expedited reinstatement.
After you're approved for SSI, the SGA limit no longer applies to you. With SSI, income works a bit differently. You can begin to work and continue to receive SSI benefits as long as your wages and other resources don't exceed the SSA's income limit for SSI; but your monthly benefit amount will be reduced in proportion to your income.
Here's how the SSA reduces your income due to your earnings. Both the federal benefit amount and the SSI countable income limit are $841 (in 2022). The SSA will reduce your benefit by the amount of your "countable income." Fortunately, not all of your income is countable income.
Calculating countable income. If your only income is from your job, the SSA doesn't include the first $85 you earn toward your countable income. After taking the $85 adjustment off of your income, the SSA will deduct, from your monthly benefits, 50 cents for every dollar you earn. For example, if you earn $1,000 a month from working, you have $457.50 of countable income.
Your monthly SSI benefit amount would be reduced by $457.50.
You can earn up to about $1,675 a month, if you have no other income, before your SSI benefit is reduced to zero.
State supplemental payments. Your monthly benefit amount is also affected by the amount your state adds to the federal SSI payment, if any. For more information, see our article on how much SSI pays.
Expedited reinstatement. If your SSI payments stop because you earn too much money (that is, if your countable income is over $841 per month), but you are then forced to quit work because of your disability, the SSA will reinstate your benefits without the need for a new application for a period of five years.
Ticket to Work program. Social Security has a program that helps SSI recipients with disabilities to pursue career planning. The program provides free employment support services, including benefits counseling and a continuation of Medicaid benefits if you go back to work.
If, because of your disability, you have certain work-related expenses that a non-disabled person wouldn't have, the SSA will deduct these costs from your monthly earnings when calculating your benefits. Examples of qualifying expenses include special transportation needs, computer support services, or counseling services. These are called impairment-related work expenses, or IRWE.
Both SSI and SSDI recipients must report to the SSA:
You must also report the amount of your monthly wages (if any) to the SSA. If you report your wages by telephone, it must be done by the 6th of the next month; if you mail or bring in your paystub to your local SSA, it must be done by the 10th of the next month. SSDI and SSI recipients can now report wages online using their Social Security account, and SSI recipients can now also report wages with a smartphone app. Social Security's website has more information on telephone wage reporting and online wage reporting.
Also, see our section on reporting changes to Social Security to find out what other changes you may need to report.
Keep in mind that the mere fact that you're working, even if you are making somewhat less than $1,350 per month, may influence whether a disability claims examiner or a disability judge believes you're disabled, especially if you're working more than 15 or 20 hours a week. For this reason, many disability lawyers and representatives will advise their clients not to work while their case is pending. For more information, see our article on whether you have to quit work when applying for disability benefits.
Updated December 10, 2021