Reporting Income and Changes for Social Security Disability

The changes you need to report depend on whether you receive SSDI or SSI, but you always need to report when your condition improves and when you go back to work.

By , Attorney · Willamette University College of Law
Updated 12/08/2022

When you're getting Social Security disability benefits, there are certain financial and legal changes you must report immediately to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Most of the changes listed in this article involve your income (or resources). But if your medical condition improves, you have to report this change too.

There are several ways you can notify Social Security of these changes, including by phone, online, or in person.

If you fail to notify Social Security about changes in your income or medical condition, you could face serious consequences. Here's what you must report (and how to report it) if you're getting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits.

What Does Social Security Consider Income?

There are four kinds of income that could affect your Social Security disability benefits (depending on the type of disability benefits you're getting):

  • earned income (wages from a job, net earnings from self–employment, certain royalties, and sheltered workshop payments)
  • unearned income (any income you didn't earn from work, including Social Security benefits, pensions, state disability payments, unemployment benefits, interest income, dividends, and cash gifts)
  • in-kind income (food and/or shelter someone provides to you for free or for less than its fair market value), and
  • deemed income (the portion of income from your spouse, parent, or other adult supporting you that Social Security uses to calculate your SSI benefits).

Social Security will need information on all four if you're receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. But for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, only your earned income matters.

What Changes Do You Report if You're Receiving SSDI?

SSDI pays you disability benefits based on how much you earned before you became disabled. As a result, if you're getting SSDI based on your own work record, you don't need to report wages or work status for other people in your household.

Likewise, you need only report your earned income. Your spouse's wages aren't involved when you receive SSDI benefits. Unearned income and in-kind income also don't matter for SSDI purposes.

Do You Have to Report It If You Go Back to Work?

If you begin working while collecting SSDI benefits, even if it's working for yourself, you must report this fact to Social Security. You'll need to report the following:

  • if you start or stop working (and the dates)
  • if the number of hours you work changes
  • how much you earned (and any changes to your wages), and
  • if you receive extra help to do your work because of your disability (extra work breaks, a job coach, or a mentor).

If you have to spend money because of your disability so you can go to work (for example, if you have to buy a wheelchair to perform your job or pay someone to drive you to work), you should report that to Social Security too. You can usually deduct these impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) from your earned income. And Social Security might even reimburse you for some IRWEs.

If you're trying to return to work but you're still disabled, Social Security will let you work for a trial period, and you can keep receiving benefits for up to nine months. Learn more about the SSDI trial work program.

Do You Have to Tell the SSA If You Start Collecting Other Disability Benefits?

If you receive SSDI and begin collecting other disability benefits or receive a lump-sum disability payment, you need to tell Social Security. It could affect your monthly SSDI benefits. For instance, if you've been injured on the job and have started receiving workers' compensation (including certain black lung benefits), your monthly SSDI payment could be reduced.

The total amount of disability benefits you receive from all sources can't be more than 80% of your average earnings at the time you became disabled, including:

  • workers' comp
  • other public disability benefits, and
  • SSDI.

If the total is more than 80% of what your average earnings were, Social Security will deduct the extra amount from your SSDI payment each month (or, in some states, workers' comp will lower your payments).

What If You Receive a Pension From a Prior Job?

If you begin receiving a pension from a job that didn't pay into Social Security, you need to tell the SSA because your SSDI benefits might be reduced. Some common examples of jobs that don't pay Social Security taxes include jobs:

  • in the federal civil service system
  • with foreign governments, and
  • with some state or local pension systems.

If you're not sure if your pension is from a job that didn't pay Social Security taxes, you should contact the person in charge of your former employer's retirement plan. If your pension is from a job that paid Social Security taxes, you don't need to report it to the SSA.

Do You Have to Tell Social Security If Your Marital Status Changes?

If you're receiving SSDI benefits based on someone else's earnings record (like a parent or spouse) and you get married or divorced, you must tell Social Security as those changes could affect your eligibility for SSDI.

If you're getting SSDI benefits based on your own work record, a change to your marital status won't affect your eligibility for benefits. But you should still tell Social Security if you marry or divorce, as that can affect the benefits your family members might be eligible to receive.

For more information, read our article on disability benefits and getting married.

What Kind of Changes Must Your Report if You're Getting SSI?

Your eligibility for SSI disability benefits is based on how much income and resources you have available to you. So you can be sure Social Security will want to keep tabs on your financial status, and you'll be required to report any changes.

Report It When the Number of People You Live With Changes

Any time there's a change in the number of people who live with you, you must report it to Social Security, including when:

  • someone moves into or out of your house
  • you start or stop living in someone else's home
  • someone you live with dies, or
  • you or someone you live with has a baby who will also live with you.

You need to report this information because it affects whether you have dependents to take care of and whether you have "in-kind" income.

When Must You Report a Change in Your Living Arrangements?

If you move into or out of a nursing home, assisted living, or another institution, you should report this to Social Security, as this will affect how much SSI you'll receive. In addition, in some states, including California, you must tell Social Security if your cooking facilities change or your share of living expenses changes.

What Kind of Income Changes Do You Need to Report for SSI?

If you're receiving income other than SSI, you must tell Social Security about any changes to your income. Changes in your income will generally affect your SSI payments in about two months.

And if you're married, you should also tell Social Security about any changes in your spouse's income. Those changes could affect the income "deemed" to you, which could raise or lower the amount of your SSI benefit payments.

What Do You Need to Report If Your Resources or Assets Change?

In order to receive SSI, you can only have up to $2,000 in resources if you're single and up to $3,000 in resources if you're married. (Resources include things like cash, checking and savings accounts, and stocks and bonds.)

You must tell Social Security about assets that you receive and any new financial accounts that have your name on it, even if you never use the money or account. Depending on what the account is used for, you might be able to set up an account that won't affect your SSI benefits.

What If Your Marital Status Changes While You're on SSI?

If you get married, divorced, or separated (or get back together after a separation), you must tell Social Security, as those situations can affect your income and your eligibility for SSI.

Learn more about how getting married could affect your disability benefits.

How Do You Report Changes to Social Security?

You can report changes to your income and resources in any of the following ways:

Social Security also offers an automated SSI telephone wage reporting system and a mobile wage reporting app. You can also sign up for email or text reminders to report your monthly wages for SSI.

What Happens if You Don't Report Changes to Social Security?

Social Security has a lot of ways to determine your financial situation, so it's very important that you notify the SSA as soon as one of the above changes takes place to avoid overpayments and penalties.

Overpayments. If you don't report a change and Social Security overpays you because of it, you'll have to pay back that money, even if you've spent it. Social Security can also stop your benefits until the overpayment is paid off. Read more about what Social Security will do when it discovers an overpayment.

Penalties. If you don't immediately report a change to Social Security, you can be penalized by losing money from your monthly payments. This amount can range from $25 to $100 per month.

If Social Security finds out that you purposefully provided the agency with false information, you'll lose your benefits for six months. If it's your second violation, you'll lose those benefits for 12 months, and if it's your third violation, you won't receive benefits for 24 months.

Fighting Back. If Social Security says you were overpaid or didn't report an important change, but you disagree, you can appeal the overpayment or request a repayment plan. If you need help making your case, you might consider talking with an experienced disability lawyer. But be advised that not all disability attorneys are willing to take an overpayment dispute case.

Learn more about getting a lawyer's help when Social Security says you were overpaid.

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