How much can I work and still receive benefits?

The amount you are allowed to work differs for the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s two benefit programs. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplementary Security Income (SSI) have different rules and program requirements.

Social Security Disability Insurance

For SSDI, you can only receive benefits if you cannot work a full time job, or enough to be considered substantial gainful activity ($1,310 per month, $2,190 if you’re blind). Therefore, most recipients receive SSDI in place of working. It is possible to work part time, but this can make it harder to prove you cannot work full time. If you are on SSDI already, you can’t start making the SGA amount regularly. To make it easier for you to go back to work, they offer a nine-month trial period. You can receive full benefits for nine months while making over the SGA for nine months to test if you are able to work with your disability. In 2020, any month that you make more than $940 or work more than 80 hours if you’re self-employed is considered a trial month.

If it is determined that you cannot work after your trial period, you can go back to receiving SSDI as normal. If you do choose to go back to work, you will still be able to receive benefits for any month you don’t make over the SGA limit for 36 months. If, at any point during the 36 months you decide you can’t work, then you need to call the SSA and they will reinstate your benefits. After the 36 month period, the SSA will keep you application on file for five years, so will not have to complete a new application and your reinstatement will be expedited.

If you return to work and lose your benefits, you are still eligible for Medicare for at least 93 months (seven years) after your nine-month trial period.

Supplementary Security Income

SSI is awarded to those currently making little or no money. There are strict financial limits to be eligible for SSI, but it’s not based on work history. There is no limit on how many hours you can work on SSI, rather a limit on how much you can make in a month. For an individual in 2020, you need to be making less than $794 of countable income per month and have less than $2,000 in assets to qualify. For a couple, the limit is $3,000. The difference between SSI and SSDI is that SSI encourages recipients to work as much as they can. Only about half of your income is counted towards the SSA’s income totals, so the $794 limit is often closer to $1,500 per month.

The amount of your monthly payment depends on your income. If your income decreases while on SSI, your payments can be increased up until the limit of $794. If you income increases, your payments will be decreased.

Even if you are making enough that you are no longer eligible for SSI benefits, you may still be able to keep your Medicaid. It is also possible to apply to buy Medicaid from the state Medicare agency if you have high medical costs.