Is there a Maximum I can Work and Make if I am on SSD or SSI Disability Benefits?

There is a maximum and it is called SGA, which stands for substantial gainful activity. It corresponds to a specific earnings limit that is the cutoff point at which a person, based on their work activity, is no longer considered disabled. To see the current amount for this year: Social Security Disability and SSI earnings limit.

SSA uses this cutoff because decisions on whether or not a person is disabled are made based on:

A) Their physical and mental limitations and

B) How those limitations affect their ability to engage in substantial and gainful work activity, which could include--

--Either work they've done in the past (it must be relevant, however, meaning that the work must have been performed in the last 15 years for a period long enough for the individual to have learned the skills of the job and the individual must have been able to earn SGA income at the job)


--Work they've never done before but which they might possess the right skills and training to do based on their current limitations and age.

If you're filing for disability and are making the SGA amount or more, you will receive a type of disability claim denial that is a "technical denial". That means that your claim will not receive an evaluation by a disability examiner, meaning that your medical records will never enter into the picture.

In other words, if you are working and making at least this much each month, there's really not much reason to apply for disability benefits. If you stop work, or your earnings decline to below this limit, then by all means contact the social security office nearest to you to file for disability benefits.

If you are already receiving disability benefits, you will have the benefit of trial work months so that you may try work activity again. You get nine of these and in these months you can work and earn more than the SGA earnings limits. These months do not have to be consecutive either so there is some flexibility for attempting work activity and they can occur within a rolling three year, or 36 month period, which makes it even more flexible.

If, however, you are working at the SGA limit and you exhaust your nine trial work months, then your benefits would be stopped in the tenth month that you are working and earning SGA level income. Even this, though, does not mean that you will be forced to start all over again should you decide that working is not a realistic option for you, given your physical or mental issues. SSA also provides for expedited reinstatements.

The most important thing, for any SSD or SSI applicant or recipient report work activity to Social Security as soon as it occurs.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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