A frequently asked question our firm hears is whether or not receiving social security benefits while working is possible. The short answer is yes, but the Social Security Administration has many rules and guidelines put into place to determine how much you can work, as well as how much you can earn. Since these benefits are intended for those who cannot work due to a disability, working while receiving benefits can complicate the process. Working full-time, even if you’re only making a small amount of money, is enough for the SSA to deny your SSD claim.
It’s helpful to understand the procedures for calculating benefits, accepting applications, and caveats to the system before deciding to continue or resume working when possible. These guidelines differ depending on if you’re receiving SSI or SSD and tend to be very individualized. If you have questions about receiving social security benefits while working, it’s best to speak with the Social Security Administration or an experienced attorney.
The Difference Between SSD and SSI
Supplemental Security Income
The Social Security Administration permits SSI beneficiaries to work as long as their income does not exceed the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). In 2020, this amount is $783.00 ($794.00 in 2021). The SSA will also use the FBR to calculate your benefit amount. Your “countable income” is subtracted from the FBR, and this amount is your benefit rate.
It’s important to know that as an SSI beneficiary, you are required by law to report to the SSA if you, your spouse, or your sponsor starts or stops working. You are also required to report your wages at the start of each month. This can be done online or over the phone. Failure to do so could result in an overpayment which you must return, or a stop in benefits altogether.
What is Countable Income?
The SSA breaks down all countable income into four different categories. Again, the dollar amount of your countable income is what’s subtracted from the FBR. Therefore, the more income you have, the lower your SSI benefit will be
- Earned Income is wages you receive from working a job
- Unearned Income includes any money that does not come from working, such as pensions, unemployment benefits, interest, and payments from family members or friends.
- In-Kind Income is any money that is used to pay for food and shelter
- Deemed Income refers to income of any family members which you live with
Is There Any Income that Doesn’t Count for SSI?
Yes, there are multiple examples of income that the SSA won’t count when considering your application for SSI or calculating your benefit. A full list can be found here, but they are generally small amounts of income that are not regular or frequent such as scholarships, food stamps, loans, etc.
In addition, the SSA does not count the first $20.00 of any unearned income received in a month. For earned income, the first $65.00 (and ½ of the remainder) in a month won’t be counted. If you only have earned income and no unearned income, they will not count the first
$85.00 (and ½ of the remainder) received in a month. So if you are generating income, your benefit amount is really the FBR – (countable income – not counted income).
To help simplify this, imagine you’re receiving SSI and have $1,585 of earned income per month. $85.00 would be subtracted from that amount, leaving you with $1,500.00.
$1,500.00 is then broken in half, leaving you with $750.00 in countable income. Finally, your benefit would be $783.00 – $750.00, leaving you entitled to $33.00 in SSI benefits. With these numbers, you can earn roughly $1,600.00 before your benefit amount is reduced to nothing. If your countable income exceeds the allowable limit, you are ineligible for SSI benefits.
This calculation is complicated and not always easy to understand. Certain states, including Ohio, will provide an additional payment to the federal benefit. Circumstances even change for certain populations, like students or people who are blind. If you have questions about your benefits, it’s a good idea to reach out to the SSA or speak with a knowledgeable attorney.
Earning Social Security Disability
While the criteria to be considered disabled is the same when trying to obtain SSD or SSI benefits, the allowable income limits and working expectations differ. Since these benefits are reserved for people who cannot work due to a disability and have paid into Social Security, it’s more difficult to be accepted if you’re employed. You may still be eligible for disability benefits if you are limited to part-time work.
The SSA has an allowable limit of total income applicants may earn per month. In 2020, that amount is $1,260.00 (gross pay) for non blind individuals ($1,310.00 for 2021). This allowable limit relates to substantial gainful activity (SGA). Substantial gainful activity not only refers to the monthly dollar amount you’ve earned from work, but also to the type and amount of work you’re performing for pay. In other words, the SSA will consider whether or not your work involves significant physical or mental activities. Most part-time and all full-time work for pay will be seen as SGA.
Still, this multitude of factors means whether or not employment will count as substantial gainful activity varies greatly from person to person. For example, high monthly earnings don’t always equal SGA. Few hours worked doesn’t always mean you’re not performing SGA. The SSA has been known to look into volunteer work and even criminal activity. Rules will also differ for those who own and work in their own business. This is yet another example of why it can be helpful to speak with the SSA or a skilled attorney.
Receiving Social Security Benefits While Working
There are times when people receiving Social Security benefits find themselves interested in seeking employment or able to perform work. The SSA has special rules for those receiving Disability benefits. They allow beneficiaries to reattempt work for a certain length of time, and find out whether or not they can succeed. The SSA requests you report any improvement in your health conditions which may permit you to work. This can be done by contacting your local Social Security office.
Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) is a State of Ohio agency. Not only do they play a large role in application decision determination, but they offer a wide variety of services to help people with disabilities return to work. Their Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation can help you find resources and opportunities for joining the workforce.
If you’re receiving SSI and want to return to work, the SSA offers a multitude of work programs and incentives. One of these programs is the SSA’s Plan to Achieve Self Support, or PASS. PASS allows beneficiaries to save money and resources to pay for anything needed to achieve a work goal. Essentially, this work goal is to find employment that eliminates the need to receive benefits. With PASS, you can receive assistance in attending school, starting a business, or purchasing uniforms or equipment for a job.
Among special PASS agency employees, the SSA had vocational rehabilitation counselors and Employment Networks to assist you. These employees work directly with PASS applicants to formulate and implement return to work plans. The SSA asks that you contact your local office or visit the SSA work site for help starting PASS
Unsuccessful Work Attempts
If you find employment while receiving benefits, and find that it’s not working out, your work activity may be classified as an unsuccessful work attempt (UWA). Examples of why this may occur include the need for help from coworkers to perform required work, or the need for special hours or breaks. Usually, a UWA will be counted when you work for 6 months or less and have to stop because of your disability. This work will not be counted as substantial gainful activity.
If you do resume working and it’s deemed to be SGA, there are still ways to reinstate your benefits when they’re subsequently terminated. Expedited reinstatement (EXR) will allow SSD benefits to resume without submitting a new application for benefits. You can file for EXR if you’ve stopped working with SGA up to five years after your payments stop. Similarly, with SSI, you can have your benefits reinstated if your income falls below the FBR within five years of losing benefits.
Navigating the ins and outs of Social Security benefits is daunting, even if you’ve already been approved. If you’re interested in filling out an application for benefits or have received a denial of your application for benefits, you don’t have to go it alone. Schedule your free consultation with a professional, and compassionate attorney today by calling (419) 350-8277 or sending us a message.