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Can I Work While on Social Security Disability?

by Ryan Kinnar5 min read
work while on social security disability

Many are reluctant to work while on Social Security Disability because they are worried this might affect their payments. However, in many cases, you can work while receiving disability benefits.


Social Security’s purpose is to help persons with disabilities get by financially. In 2016, Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that it is giving disability benefits to over 9 million Americans. But even under Social Security’s benefits, many recipients still find it difficult to make ends meet. Which is why, Social Security allows giving out payments even when beneficiaries are earning a few dollars, provided they meet the requirements.


Substantial Gainful Activity

 To qualify for the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you should not be engaged in substantial gainful activity or SGA. For 2017, the SGA limit is $1,170 per month and $1,950 for blind individuals. This means that you can look for other sources of income and receive your disability benefits provided that your earnings do not exceed these amounts.


Trial Work Period

 SSA also allows beneficiaries to undergo what they call a trial work period (TWP). Recipients will test their abilities and work for nine months, which is not necessarily consecutive and within a 60-month timeframe. During this period, they will receive their disability benefits in full. Social Security considers any month trial work month as long as you earn more than $840 per month. If you are self-employed (freelancer, consultant, small business owner), you should be working over 80 hours a month to be considered trial work month.


Extended Period of Eligibility

When you’ve exhausted your TWP, you may enter Social Security’s extended period of eligibility (EPE), which lasts 36 months. At this point, you can still work while on social security disability benefits as long as you haven’t recovered from your disability and your income is still below the SGA levels.


If you quit work during this period, Social Security will restart your benefits without the need to submit an application. But if you exceed SGA during the EPE, Social Security will consider that you are no longer disabled. At this point, Social Security will provide full benefits during that month and a grace period of two months before they terminate your benefits.


Medicare Continuation

 Your Medicare coverage will continue during the TWP and EPE. If you stopped receiving benefits due to exceeding the SGA limit but are still disabled, you will still be covered by Medicare for another 93 months after the TWP.


Disability-Related Expenses

People with a disability often have to deal with additional expenses when they work. For this reason, the SSA will also deduct disability-related expenses from monthly earnings when computing for your benefits. Qualified expenses include transportation (when you have to pay for car services and taxis), copayments for prescriptions, wheelchair, a job coach, a personal attendant, counseling and any work equipment specialized for your needs.


These deductions will help keep your monthly earnings from reaching above SGA levels, at which point you can continue to work while on Social Security disability benefits.


Ticket to Work Program

If you are a beneficiary who wants to work but not capable of performing any of your previous jobs, you may apply for Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program. You will be entitled to free vocational rehabilitation, referrals, training, and other types of employment support. Social Security will evaluate the participants and develop a plan that will assist the candidate in reentering the workforce.