How much money can you make when on Social Security disability? The answer is that you can make as much as you want. Making that money may have consequences for your Social Security disability benefits but there’s nothing illegal about making money when on Social Security disability benefits.
To give a fuller answer to the question, let’s first talk about two basic types of Social Security benefits. There is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and there are various other types of Social Security disability benefits based upon someone’s earnings. I hate to use a technical term but I think I’ll have to. The non-SSI benefits are Title II benefits because they fall under Title II of the Social Security Act.
SSI is a needs-based program. You have to have a low income and low resources in order to get SSI disability benefits. Income from any source, including work, gifts, lottery winnings, you name it, reduce SSI. Work is treated a little more favorably but, still, it does not take that much in the way of earnings to cut off your SSI disability benefits. You get little benefit from Social Security’s work incentives if you’re on SSI.
If you’re on Title II disability benefits there is what is called the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) amount. For 2011, the SGA amount is $1,000 a month. I cringe as I write this since I know how easy it is for people to be confused by the SGA amount. Here are a few examples:
- The SGA amount is gross earnings, before taxes. You can have a lot less than $1,000 a month is take home pay and still be over SGA.
- If you are paid on a weekly basis, there are sometimes five paychecks in a month. If you are paid every two weeks, sometimes there are three paychecks in a month. These months can easily put you over SGA.
- Your employer asks you to work an extra day or two. It can’t be that big a deal. It’s only a small amount of money. But it puts you over SGA and consequences flow.
The bottom line is to be very, very careful about the SGA amount, or perhaps, to ignore it altogether and just earn as much as you can. Accept that after a year of work, that your Social Security disability benefits will be suspended because of the work.
In any case, it is crucial that you notify Social Security about ANY return to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re under SGA. You must notify them and you should get a receipt for your report of return to work. Report the return to work and things will go smoothly regardless of how much you earn. Don’t notify Social Security and there will be problems, perhaps very unpleasant problems. The worst case would be a criminal prosecution.