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Can You Work While Receiving SSDI Benefits?

There’s an unfortunate but common misconception that people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are not allowed to work. Not only is this idea false, but it can lead to a loss of income for disabled people who need it the most.

People with disabilities benefit in many ways from retaining some form of employment if they so desire. It’s true that many recipients aren’t able to work. However, many people in Arizona do have some earnings and still collect benefits.

How much you can make – and whether that affects your benefits – is another question, since the formula is a balance between income amount and other criteria. Whether you receive benefits and are thinking of trying out a new job, or work part time and want to apply for benefits, it’s always good to know your rights.

Receiving SSDI Benefits While Working

Social Security can disqualify applicants who are making too much money from working. Generally, the person must either be unable to work or be making below the substantial gainful activity (SGA), which is $1,310 a month in 2021. For blind people the amount is $2,190. Once you start receiving payments, this same rule can cause your payments to fluctuate if you start or stop working.

As a rule, when your income goes up, it can cause your disability payments to go down. And making too much money can disqualify you entirely. But there’s an extended period of time during which the rules aren’t so stringent. Additionally, certain conditions and guidelines allow many people to work part time without being cut off from benefits.

Trial Work Period

If the SGA rule has you frustrated, you might be relieved to know there is some flexibility in the system. Under federal rules, people receiving disability are entitled to a trial work period. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine months within a 60-month period. In 2021, any month in which earnings exceed $940 is considered a trial work month.

During this period there is no limit on earnings. The idea is that your ability to work is being assessed during this time. Typically, you’ll still be classified as disabled, and your benefits shouldn’t be affected by how much you earn during this period.

These trial periods can provide relief for people whose health or work situation fluctuates, as well as for people making efforts to supplement their benefits with some additional income. Because the trial process is designed with fluctuations in mind, those nine months don’t have to be consecutive. The formula might include other factors – for instance, depending on whether you’re a student or are self-employed.

Extended Period of Eligibility

After your trial work period, if you are still receiving payments, you’ll enter an extended period of eligibility for the next 36 months. That doesn’t mean your ability to work is over. The SGA rule still applies, but certain work-related expenses can be deducted from your earnings.

If you are working and have substantial earnings, deducting expenses might be a way to continue receiving payments. Possible deductions include:

  • Copayments for prescriptions;
  • Counseling services;
  • Travel expenses;
  • A wheelchair;
  • A career coach; or
  • Specialized work equipment.

This is another area that should be discussed with someone familiar with the matter. If it is determined that that you’re no longer eligible, your benefits could be terminated.

Reporting Changes

When disability recipients begin to work, they’re expected to report their income to SSA. Of course, it’s not unusual for an individual’s health or work status to fluctuate. However, it is important that you or your representative report if:

  • You start or stop work;
  • Your duties, hours, or pay has changed; or
  • You’ve begun paying expenses for work that are related to your disability.

To avoid future hassles, keep your own copies of any documentation you submit, and request proof of reporting. For example, if you drop off a copy of your pay stubs, be sure you get a date stamp on your copy.

It goes without saying: striking a balance between earning an income and requesting assistance can be complicated. Any type of supplemental income has rules attached that can require a lengthy application process. It’s in your best interest to find out as much as possible about what those rules are before submitting your application.

If you need a lawyer who specializes in Social Security Disability to help you understand more about working while receiving payments, fill out our online form or call us at 480-508-8800 to schedule a free case evaluation.