If you apply for Social Security disability benefits, either through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you are alleging that you are too disabled to work. Social Security will allow you to work up to a certain level, however, without jeopardizing your benefits.
Social Security Disability Insurance
SSDI recipients cannot continue to receive benefits if they are working at a level that is considered substantial gainful activity (SGA). Social Security Administration (SSA) changes the monetary amount that represents SGA every year; in 2020, you are engaging in SGA if you are working and earning $1,260 per month, or $2,110 if you are blind.
If your condition improves, and you think you might be able to return to the workforce, SSA allows a trial period during which your monthly benefits will not be compromised if you work and earn more than the SGA amount. In 2020, SSA considers any month in which you earn more than $910 to be a trial work month. For self-employed individuals, a trial work month is any month when you work more than eighty hours.
A trial work period is considered nine months of working and earning income at a level higher than SGA. For 36 months following the trial work period, you will remain eligible to receive benefits for any month where you earn less than the SGA level, which is called the extended period of eligibility. If you continue working above the SGA level after the trial work period and your benefits stop, but you ultimately have to stop working again because of your disability, your benefits can be reinstated without you having to reapply for the next five years, which is called expedited reinstatement.
Supplemental Security Income
To be eligible for SSI benefits, you are limited by the total amount of resources you can have. You can work and receive SSI benefits at the same time, as long as your wages added to other resources do not exceed the SSI resource limit. If you work, your total SSI benefits amount will be reduced in proportion to your income.
If the only income you earn is from working, SSA does not include the first $85 toward your countable income. After that, SSA will deduct $0.50 for every dollar you earn. Similarly, if you have work-related expenses because of your disability that other non-disabled workers do not have to pay for (called impairment-related work expenses), like transportation needs or counseling services, SSA will deduct these costs from your total monthly earnings before calculating your monthly SSI benefits.
Like SSDI benefits, there is a period of extended eligibility for SSI benefits. If you return to work and lose your benefits but subsequently have to stop working because of your injury, you have five years within which your benefits can be reinstated without you having to reapply for benefits.