How Does Working Affect Social Security Benefits?

As I discussed in a prior post, the Social Security Disability (SSD) system has its fair share of issues. One of those issues is how confusing the laws are as they relate to a person being able to work while at the same time receive disability payments.

People who receive disability payments often realize fairly quickly that the benefits they receive are significantly less than their salary when they worked. In fact, the amount is so low that many recipients are unable to support their family on the amount they receive. Because of this, I’ve gotten the same question fairly regularly – can I work at all if I’m receiving disability benefits?

The answer to that isn’t a straight yes or no. It’s important to first point out the standard for granting of disability benefits. The standard is this – if you are determined to have a severe disability that prevents you from doing your current job for at least one year, and you’re given reasonable accommodations by the employer, are there any jobs that exist in sufficient numbers that you’d be able to perform on a 40-hour-a-week basis?

Notice that the standard is for full-time work. This means that you can work part-time and still get benefits, right? Yes, but with certain caveats.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to work while receiving benefits, but puts a cap on the amount of work you can do. They call the threshold for allowed work Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA. If you’re receiving SSDI, the SSA has defined “substantial” as earning over $1,070/month for 2014 (this amount changes every year). So, if you work and earn less than that, you are not at SGA levels and can still receive benefits.

There’s also something called a Trial Work Period (TWP). At any point during your disability, you can attempt to return to work without immediately giving up your benefits. This attempt can last up to 9 months. In 2014, a trial-work month means any month where your earnings are above $770. The 9 months worked do not need to be consecutive; it is considered a TWP if you work 9 months within a 60 month period. You can still receive benefits for a certain period after the TWP ends.

Keep in mind, though, that if you are working you must report it to the SSA. Yes, they allow you to work. However, they can then use the fact that you work, even part-time, as evidence that you are no longer disabled and in need of benefits.

The Social Security Disability system is extremely complicated. Rather than try to navigate it alone, speak to a lawyer. If you are in need of disability benefits, or you already receive benefits and need guidance on where to go from here, contact The Fliszar Firm in Bethlehem, PA today.

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