Working While Applying for Social Security Disability

In prior posts I’ve explored how someone already receiving SSI or SSDI can return to work. But can you work while you are in the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits? Even though many of the same rules apply, there are a few different issues that face those still in the application process.  These are what I call the Who, What, When, Where, How (much), and Why of your current job.


 Who are you working for? Are you self-employed, where you can set your own hours and work at your own pace, or do you work for someone who determines those things for you?


What type of job are you performing? What mental and physical skills and effort does it require?


When are you working? How many hours per week? How many hours during each day?


Where do you work? What type of environment are you in? Does it require exposure to hazardous work conditions, such as heavy machinery or chemicals? Is this a highly structured environment where you are receiving extra help to complete your work?

How (much)?

If you are earning less than SGA every month ($1,180 in 2018), you can still apply for SSI and SSDI benefits.


Why are you earning below SGA? Is it because your employer limits your hours or salary, or is it because you truly cannot work anymore than you already do?


How you answer these questions will play a large part in whether your claim is approved or denied. For example, If you are working 4 hours/day because your employer cannot give you more hours, rather than because you are in too much pain after 4 hours of work, Social Security might decide that you could work more hours if only you found a different job. Thus, they would be less likely to approve your claim than if you only worked 4 hours as a direct result of your condition.

In sum, the more you can contribute your limited earnings to your medical conditions rather than the circumstances of your employer, the more likely it is that your claim will be approved.


All of this begs another question: Wouldn’t it be easier to not work and just collect the full benefit, especially if you are going to have to answer all of these questions?

It may be easier to do that, however the payoff once you are approved for benefits may make the extra hassle worth it.

The average SSDI payment is around $1,300/month, and the maximum SSI benefit in 2018 is $750/month for an individual, or $1,125/month for an eligible married couple.

If you are approved for SSDI, you can collect your full SSDI benefit, plus any earned income below SGA.  

Ex: If you receive $850/month from work and $1,300/month from SSDI, your monthly income will be $2,150/month.[1]

On the other hand, if you are approved for SSI your benefit will be reduced based on how much you earn from working. However, it is not a $1-for-$1 reduction. SSA uses an equation to determine how much your SSI benefit will be reduced.

Ex: Mary earns $600/month from work.                    Maximum SSI Benefit: $750/month

The Equation

$600 – $85 (the $65 Earned Income Exclusion + $20 General Income Exclusion) = $515

$515 ÷ 2 = $257.50

$750 (maximum SSI benefit) – $257.50 = $492.50 total SSI benefit payable

$492.50 (total SSI benefit payable) + $600 (earnings from work) = $1,092.50 total monthly income

Also, even if an SSI recipient’s monthly benefit is reduced to $0 because of how much they earn from work or other sources, they are still eligible for Medicaid. That can be a huge benefit, especially since many people with minimal earnings would not be eligible for affordable health insurance through their employer.

In sum, if you can work, you will typically be better off by doing so than if you don’t work at all out of fear of getting denied. However, it may be beneficial to contact an experienced attorney to help you navigate the special issues that can arise in those situations.  

[1] If you earn more than $850/month from work once you are approved, you will enter a Trial Work Period. See this post for more information.


Author: Kathryn L. Blevins, Esq.

Attorney. Small business owner. Military family. I am the owner and attorney at Blevins Law, LLC. My firm focuses on Social Security disability claims (SSI and SSDI), Veterans' Disability Compensation, Advance Medical Directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. I also assist veterans assessing other types of VA benefits they may be eligible for. I am licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and am a VA Accredited Attorney. I am the proud wife of an Army veteran, and the proud mother of two amazing children and three rescued fur children.

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