How much work can you do and still qualify for SSDI benefits?

To win Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits you will have to prove you have a severe health condition which will last 12 continuous months and will not allow you to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA work). Unfortunately, it can take months or years to win your disability benefits. So what do you do? Do you quit work and apply for benefits or do you apply for benefits and keep working until you are approved?

If you have decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, but you are currently working too many hours or making too much money, the SSA will deny your disability case. So continuing to work full-time is not an option if you want to receive SSDI benefits.

Some claimants decide to work part-time and apply for benefits. Unfortunately, it's not unusual for the SSA to assume if you are working part-time you could work a few more hours, especially if you could find a less strenuous job.

What is substantial gainful activity?

So what's the first step? First, if you are going to apply for SSDI benefits, you need to understand what the SSA considers SGA work. Substantial gainful activity can be divided into work which is substantial and work which is gainful.

In 2014, the SSA considers gainful work working and making $1,070 for non-blind disabled applicants and $1,800 for blind applicants. If you are physically and mentally capable of working and making this amount of money the SSA considers you fully engaged in work and will automatically deny your disability claim.

But the SSA does not just evaluate whether or not your work is gainful. They will also evaluate whether it is substantial. For instance, if you are able to complete volunteer work for 30 to 40 hours per week, even if you receive no pay or profit, the SSA will claim that the work is comparable to other work which is done for pay and will deny your claim for disability.

So how much work can you do and still qualify for SSDI benefits? This is a difficult question to answer. You might qualify for benefits working 10 hours per week (if the pay is not gainful), but if you are able to work 25 to 40 hours you will most likely be denied benefits. The SSA will claim the work is "substantial" and argue you have the ability to find gainful employment comparable to the work you are currently doing for free.

Can I work after I start receiving SSDI benefits?

The SSA has implemented several programs to encourage workers to return to work. If you decide you want to return to work they will allow you to receive SSDI benefits for a short "trial period." But…and this cannot be emphasized enough, if you decide to return to work you need to contact the SSA and discuss your options. There are very specific rules for how much money you can make and how long you can work before your SSDI benefits are terminated.

If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (not SSDI) you may return to work but remember, your income will reduce your monthly SSI benefit. If you receive too much income, you will lose your SSI benefit. AND…If you fail to report your income, you will owe the SSA money.

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