How Much Can You Earn and Still Get Social Security Disability?
Before SSA even looks at your medical conditions, they will look to see if you are engaging in what they call substantial gainful activity (SGA). SSA will find that you are engaging in SGA if you are earning over $1180 per month if you are not blind or $1970 per month if you are blind. You could be missing both legs and one arm and SSA will not find you disabled if you are able to earn over $1180 per month. The example I always give is former Senator Max Cleland. Senator Cleland was missing both legs and an arm, but he would have been ineligible for Social Security Disability because he was making too much money as a Senator.
Okay, you make less than $1180. Does that mean you’re eligible for Social Security Disability?
It just means you made it past the first step in the process. You still must prove you are disabled. To prove you are disabled you need to show that you either meet a specific listed condition or that your combination of physical and mental impairments prevent you from doing your past work or any other work available in substantial numbers. Any earnings you make below $1180 is still evidence of your ability to work. You’ll need to explain why you can earn some money but not above SGA.
To illustrate consider two contrasting examples. Claimant A has a mental condition that makes it difficult for her to be around other people, but she makes $800 per month working at a restaurant. Claimant B has Lupus that causes severe fatigue, but she is able to work every other day and then spends her off days recovering in bed. Claimant A is going to have a difficult time explaining how she can be around coworkers 20 hours a week but not 40 hours per week. Her testimony that she has trouble being around people is inconsistent with her ability to be around others 20 hours per week. Claimant B’s testimony, in contrast, is completely consistent with her condition. It is logical that someone with severe fatigue could work some but would need more breaks and more days off. Therefore, the judge would likely find that Claimant A’s below SGA work is still evidence of her ability to work at SGA and conclude that Claimant B is unable to work at SGA because of her fatigue.
What About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The above information does not apply to SSI cases. SSI is the program for people who did not pay enough into the system to get Social Security Disability (SSDI). Unlike SSDI, there are strict income limits on SSI. Therefore, any money you make offsets any SSI you would get. The maximum amount an individual can get in SSI for 2018 is $750. Therefore, if you earn $750 and above, your entitlement to SSI is totally wiped out.