Can I receive Social Security disability benefits and still work?
Receiving social security disability benefits does not mean you should not work. However, the Social Security Administration has strict rules you must follow to keep your benefits even as you work. Typically, the SSA will discontinue your benefits if you participate in what is known as “substantial gainful activity” or simply as SGA.
In other words, the SSA does not limit how many hours you may be able to work. Therefore, you can work unlimited hours if you want to. However, as of 2022, you cannot earn more than $1350 a month or $2,260 if you are blind. Earning beyond these limits puts you at risk of losing your Social Security disability benefits.
That said, the SSA also encourages disability recipients to return to work if their disability is expected to improve. For this reason, the government agency has some exceptions to the rules regarding how much you can earn while receiving disability benefits.
What Are the Exceptions?
The SSA has an exception known as the Trial Work Period. This period usually lasts nine months. During the TWP, disability recipients can test their ability to return to work and earn whatever salary they wish to without worrying about surpassing the limits set by the SSA. In short, they can participate in SGA without worrying about losing their benefits.
It is also important to note that the rules for the TWP change now and then. For example, in 2022, if you earn more than $970, the SSA considers this salary a trial work month. Likewise, if you are self-employed and work more than 80 hours in any month, this is considered a trial work month.
Another thing you need to know is that the nine-month period does not need to be consecutive. Just as long as you participated in TWP for nine months, the SSA will review this period, whether consecutive or not.
After the review, the SSA might still award you benefits for any month where you earned less than the SGA limit for 36 months. This is what is popularly known as the “extended period of eligibility.”
How Does the “Extended Period of Eligibility” Work?
To further understand how the extended period of eligibility works, let's assume you earn more than the SGA limit for that particular year (for example, $1350 in 2022). In that case, you will not receive benefits for that month. On the other hand, you will receive benefits if you earned less than the SGA limit for that particular year.
Can I Apply for Social Security Benefits After Returning to Work?
Yes, you can apply for disability benefits after returning to work. If you do that within the first five years of returning to work, you will go through a process called expedited reinstatement.
Here is a hypothetical example of such a situation:
John has successfully passed the Trial Work Period and found a decent job. However, two years into his new job, he cannot continue working because his disability has become even more severe. For this reason, he may be eligible for expedited reinstatement, meaning he will receive disability benefits from the SSA without having to file a new application. Because he previously received benefits, John will not need to begin his application from scratch.
Can I Still Work When My Social Security Disability Application Is Pending?
The whole point of applying for social security disability benefits is that you have a disability that prevents you from earning a living to support your basic needs. Therefore, working while your social security disability application is pending could jeopardize your application. This is especially true if you earn more than the SGA limit set by the Social Security Administration.
In addition, if you work more than 15 hours a week, the SSA might conclude that you can participate in Substantial Gainful Activity. This is usually a sensitive area, so it is always advisable to consult an experienced disability attorney to review your case. The attorney will review your case and offer the best possible legal advice to increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
Should I Quit My Job When I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?
Although working while your disability application is pending can jeopardize the outcome of the application, quitting your job is not usually the best solution. The SSA considers many other factors before deciding on whether to approve your application.
For example, you will not receive social security benefits if you earn more than the SGA limit. However, you may be eligible for benefits if you are legally blind and applying only for Supplemental Security Income, which is usually offered to disabled US children, adults, and individuals aged 65 or older.
In addition, if you require numerous accommodations to be able to perform your duties and responsibilities at work, the SSA might deduct these expenses from your earnings. When that happens, you may be eligible for social security disability benefits.
Let's say you need special equipment to work—the SSA will deduct the cost of obtaining or maintaining this equipment from your salary. If you earn under the SGA limit after all these deductions, you may be eligible for disability benefits.
Do I Need an Attorney to Apply for Disability Benefits?
Technically, you do not need an attorney to apply for disability benefits. However, an attorney can help you understand the dos and don'ts of applying for benefits. Remember, there is no one-fits-all approach to this application. Instead, an experienced attorney will review the specifics of your case and advise you on how to proceed.
At Morgan and Morgan, our social security disability attorneys understand how confusing it is to apply for benefits. Should you stop working? How much can you earn? How long should you work? These are just some of the questions you will have to deal with along the way. But you should not worry about that when you work with us.
Our social security disability attorneys can help you understand your options, increasing your chances of obtaining favorable results. Ready to get started? Fill out our free online case evaluation form.