Can I work and still receive Social Security disability or SSI benefits?

Updated 01/04/12.

Can a person work and still receive Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

The answer is a qualified “yes.”

Social Security wants people to try to go back to work. But, the regulations surrounding keeping your benefits while you try to go back to work make it tricky.

Are you engaged in a Substantial Gainful Activity?

Generally speaking, the test of disability is whether you can perform a substantial gainful activity (SGA)? That is, are your monthly gross earnings (income before taxes and deduction) equal to, or greater than the Substantial Gainful Activity amounts set by Social Security.

In 2012, if you are making at least $1,010 per month, before taxes, your work is a substantial gainful activity. To see the current SGA amount, or SGA amount for other years, click here.

So, if I my gross income is the SGA amount, or more, I have a problem,

But, if my monthly gross income is less than SGA, Social Security will leave me alone.

That is generally correct and it is a good rule of thumb.

However, and this is a big however, this is not the end of the analysis. There are exceptions to allow your benefits to continue if you are earning more than SGA and exceptions that might stop your benefits even if you are earning less than SGA.

If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income, you can earn more than the SGA amount and still receive your SSI benefits. But, that is an article in itself.

If you earn more than the SGA amount:

There are a number of exceptions to allow your benefits to continue even if you earn more than the substantial gainful activity amount. Let’s take a look at them.

Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA)

Did the work last for less than 6 months? If yes, the work may qualify as an unsuccessful work attempt or UWA. This is the most common way to continue benefits if you return to work and earn more than the SGA amount.

Simply put, if you work at or above the SGA level for up to six months but have to stop because of your disability, as opposed to being laid off, or quitting, the work may be an unsuccessful work attempt.

There are a number of requirements for an unsuccessful work attempt, read about them here.

Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE)

If your work is performed at a SGA level, you may be able to reduce the income SSA considers through Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs).  Any medically necessary expenses related to your impairment which are necessary to allow you to work may be deducted from your gross income as an IRWE.

For example: if you have a disabling seizure disorder.  However, due to a new medication, your seizure disorder is controlled enough to allow you to go back to work.  The medications, doctors visits, and blood tests to test the level of medication in you blood stream may all be IRWEs and might reduce your income.

Subsidy

A subsidy is any compensation over the fair value of your work.  This often happens if you work for a family member or if you work through an agency like Goodwill.

If you are paid for a 40 hour week but you only work 25 hours, you have a 15 hour subsidy.  Another possibility is if the value of your work is $8.00 an hour, but you are paid $10.00 an hour (a $2.00 an hour subsidy).

If you subtract the subsidy, and your gross income is below the SGA amount, you might still be able to keep your Social Security benefits. Click for more information about subsidies.

Trial Work Period

If you are receiving Disability Insurance (not SSI), Social Security allows you a Trial Work Period: you can go back to work, and earn even more than the SGA amount, and still be considered disabled, for 9 months.

Click for more information about Trial Work Periods.

Even if you earn LESS THAN the SGA amount watch out!

Any work may create the impression that an individual is not really disabled.  That is the greatest risk of going back to work.

I have heard too many stories of Social Security stopping benefits and even claiming an overpayment, because they thought a person who had gone back to work was never disabled in the first place, or that their disability stopped months or years ago.

Performing a job at a non-SGA level, may suggest the ability to perform other work at a SGA level.

you could do a different job at a SGA amount.  Therefore, you are not disabled and your benefits should stop.

An extreme example of this is working a part time construction or labor job.

  • You may be limited to only being able to do this work part-time.
  • Your earnings may be less than the SGA amount.
  • BUT, if you can do part-time construction, doesn’t that mean you may be able to do full time (SGA) work at an easier job, for example as an information clerk.

Lets get real here:  if there is a less demanding full time SGA job that you can perform, your disability benefits will be questioned sooner or later and you may be assessed an overpayment.

Are you structuring your work to be less than the SGA amount?

If you are keeping your hours below a certain amount, not for a medical reason, but just to earn less than the SGA amount, you are committing fraud.

Your benefits will probably be stopped, and you are looking at an overpayment and will probably have to repay Social Security. But things, can get much worse: Social Security may also refer your case to the Attorney Generals office for federal prosecution.

Do not game the system.  It is not worth it.

=========================================================
Disclaimer: This is NOT legal advice. This site provides general information about Social Security disability cases in Colorado. To discuss your particular circumstances, please contact a lawyer in your area. Please review the full disclaimer .

About Tomasz Stasiuk

Tomasz Stasiuk is a Colorado Springs Social Security disability lawyer and the founding attorney of the Stasiuk Firm - a law firm specializing in Social Security disability cases in Colorado. Follow Tomasz Stasiuk on Google and Twitter

, , , ,

  • Michelle

    I am 34, and am on surviors disability. I want to know the difference, if any in survivors disability, and disability. Is it legal for me to work from home for extra income, and if so what is the limit I can earn?

  • http://www.SocialSecurityInsider.com/ TomaszStasiuk

    Hi Michelle,

    It sounds like you are receiving disability bases on a deceased person's earnings and contribution to Social Security (survivor's disability) rather than disability benefits based on your own earnings and contribution to Social Security (“regular” disability).

    Since I cannot offer legal advice through this site, I can't answer your question about whether you can work any differently than what this article already says.

    If an individual's work is a Substantial Gainful Activity (for 2009, $980 per month before any deductions), Social Security may decide that they are no longer disabled and stop their benefits. This article discusses that topic and some of the other problems that can come up EVEN IF the work is not a SGA.

    Here is a related article that may explain this better: http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2008/11/sh

  • Michelle

    I am 34, and am on surviors disability. I want to know the difference, if any in survivors disability, and disability. Is it legal for me to work from home for extra income, and if so what is the limit I can earn?

  • http://www.ColoradoSocialSecurityLaw.com TomaszStasiuk

    Hi Michelle,

    It sounds like you are receiving disability bases on a deceased person's earnings and contribution to Social Security (survivor's disability) rather than disability benefits based on your own earnings and contribution to Social Security (“regular” disability).

    Since I cannot offer legal advice through this site, I can't answer your question about whether you can work any differently than what this article already says.

    If an individual's work is a Substantial Gainful Activity (for 2009, $980 per month before any deductions), Social Security may decide that they are no longer disabled and stop their benefits. This article discusses that topic and some of the other problems that can come up EVEN IF the work is not a SGA.

    Here is a related article that may explain this better: http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2008/11/sh

  • Pingback: What if I Am Earning More Than the Substantial Gainful Activity Amounts? | Colorado Social Security Law

  • Pingback: Trial Work Period and Social Security Disability Benefits | Colorado Social Security Law

  • Pingback: How much can I earn and keep my SSI? | Colorado Social Security Law

  • Schmer39

    i am going to try to get my brother-in-law on disability but i am trying to find out limits on income because he works and also is a co owner of a grain farm.any help would greatly be appreciated.

  • http://www.Planet10Tech.com TomaszStasiuk

    That is a relatively simple questions that quickly becomes complicated:

    Earnings in context of how SSA reviews cases is discussed here: http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2009/03/how-social-security-reviews-cases-the-5-step-sequential-evaluation-process/

    Earning amounts here: http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2007/12/useful-site-social-security-substantial-gainful-activity-amounts-by-year/

    How an individual who earns above the SGA amount might still qualify, here: http://www.socialsecurityinsider.com/2009/07/i-earn-too-much-for-social-security-what-can-i-do/

    Good luck!

  • denise johnson

    hi my name is denise johnson and i,m totaly disable can you send me something i can can work from home my email address is tudy66671@yahoo.com .thank you

  • http://www.Planet10Tech.com TomaszStasiuk

    Hi Denise. That’s not really what this site is about. However, I suspect you’ll get some work-from-home spam in your email now. :)

  • Vivene Goulbourne

    Hi my name is Vivene and I was diagnosed with Familial Tremor at the age of 15.  I was fortunate to work taking care of the elderly, but had to avoid taking someone to feed, take blood pressure or to take their pulse. I was put on a blood pressure medication in 2002 which helped somewhat. In January of this year I was put on high cholesterol  meds, which started symptoms of my tremor worse than before, I also have twitching in my face. I am scared to look a job because of my condition.  can I collect SSI?  Please Email me at vivenegoulbourne@gmail.com.

  • http://www.Planet10Tech.com TomaszStasiuk

    Hi Viviane, 

    Social Security cases are decided on the details. Two people with the same condition can have very different outcomes depending on the facts in their individual cases. I encourage you to contact a lawyer in your area to review your case. A lawyer can help evaluate your chances and help you build your case. However, no one can guarantee how Social Security will decide a case. Ultimately, it is a matter of applying and seeing what SSA says.

  • Pingback: What is an Unsuccessful Work Attempt? | Colorado Social Security

  • Raquel

    Hi, I’m Raquel and I have been a SSI recipient for 5 years now. However, I’m getting the urge to get back in the work field of at least try to. But, I’m concerned about this because I have a payee and I suffer from manic depression. I really cant afford to loose my benefits completely… Still in all, I want to get back into the world. How will this effect my case??  

  • http://www.stasiukfirm.com/ TomaszStasiuk

    Social Security encourages people to return to work: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/redbook/eng/returning-to-work.htm

    However, not even Social Security can tell you ahead of time whether it will result in your losing your benefits. 

  • linda

    hello i m hard of hearing and i draw ssdi with medicare and the supplement sucks so walmart offer me a full benefit which 40 hrs been there 2 yrs so i cant hear very good so i was born with german measle damage my hearing
    can just got a raise 9.20 hrs

  • linda

    can i keep the check im total deaf

  • linda

    trying to get full time job with good insurance because i can get part time take too much money out

  • alisha

    hi my name is alisha west i have naver work and i ssi all my life can i work?

  • Stephanie Jones

    hi my name is stephanie. I suffer from ptsd and bipolar. I have many panic attacks, but am currently on medication trying to get them regulated. Im currently appealing a ssi denial, yet would love to be able to work at least a little to help w bills while I wait.. do you have any suggestions? I have been applying at jobs that have you working about 5 or 6 hours a day. if I would get a job like that, what would happen to my ssi appeal etc? I guess im just generally very confused. any help you could give would be very appreciated. thanks so much.

  • http://www.stasiukfirm.com/ TomaszStasiuk
x

Call BEFORE you apply! -- (719) 359-9311

Get a no-cost in office evaluation of your Colorado Social Security disability case. We help our clients file for Social Security disability benefits the right way the first time!