Social Security does more than provide income for retirees; it is also designed to provide people with disabilities and hardship the means to stay financially stable. However, there are situations where Social Security income is simply not enough. Here, the disability advocates at Disability Associates break down how you can continue working and collecting monthly Social Security Disability benefits.

Understanding Substantial Gainful Activity

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is work that generates a certain amount of income per month. In 2018, that amount is $1,180 for non-blind disabled applicants and $1,970 for blind applicants. An individual who generates more income than the SGA limits will likely be ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits. However, there are exceptions to this rule, as explained below.

Trial Work Period

To be eligible for disability benefits, your injury must be expected to keep you from working for at least one year. After becoming disabled, it is often difficult to know whether you will be able to return to work. To help disability applicants determine whether they will be able to return to work, the SSA will allow disability applicants to engage in a work trial period for nine months. During this time, you can receive disability benefits in full, regardless of how much income you make.

According to 2018 standards, any month that you earn at least $850 counts as a trial month. Similarly, if you are self-employed, any month where you work more than 80 hours (or earn more than $850) is considered a trial work month. Your trial period will continue until you’ve worked nine months within a 60-month timeframe.

Extended Period of Eligibility

Once you have completed your trial work period, Social Security does provide resources in the event that you are still unable to consistently work. You can receive Social Security Disability benefits for any month where your earnings fall below the SGA amount, within a 36-month window following the completion of your trial period. This is referred to as an extended period of eligibility.

Following your trial work period, if your Social Security Disability payments stop because your income exceeds the SGA amount, you still have a five-year period in which you can receive benefits without filing a new disability application. This is known as expedited reinstatement and can save you significant time should your condition worsen—or if you become re-injured—in the future.

Offset Your Earnings with Expenses

If you are consistently earning more than the SGA limit, it is very possible that you are ineligible for disability benefits. However, the SSA will deduct certain disability-related expenses, potentially allowing your overall income to fall below the SGA threshold. Depending on your unique situation, certain activities or expenses could be deducted to help your income remain below the SGA threshold. Speak to a disability advocate—such as the ones at Disability Associates—to see if any of your expenses may be deductible.

Consult a Social Security Disability Attorney

If you are injured and unable to work, or unsure whether you will be able to work in the future due to your condition, ensuring that you receive benefits from Social Security is of the utmost importance. At Disability Associates, we have over a quarter-century of experience working with Social Security Disability cases. Whether it is an appeal, or you are just beginning the process of applying, we can help. Contact us today for more information.