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Do You Make Too Much to Qualify for Social Security Disability? You Might Be Surprised at the Answer

Workers that are able to earn a small amount of money from a part-time job, but who cannot work full time because they are disabled, are often in a quandary: do they need to quit working altogether so they can attempt to qualify for Social Security Disability? Or can they continue earning some income? Fortunately, for those workers, the Social Security program provides some guidance as to "how much is too much" to qualify.

Under the Social Security program, the first thing that will be evaluated when determining whether you qualify for disability income is whether you are engaging in "substantial gainful activity." Work is not "substantial" when it involves more assistance or supervision than normal or when duties are of little use or make no demands on the employee. The "substantial" element mainly exists to allow people who are being paid money by relatives or charitable institutions to find a way to qualify, since they would not be able to get paid by anyone outside their family or organization.

Because most work is "substantial" under the SSA's definition, most people who need to qualify are more concerned with the "gainful" portion of "substantial gainful activity." The law defines "gainful" in some detail, but for the most part income is considered to be "gainful" only if it rises above a particular threshold. That threshold changes from year-to-year based on cost of living adjustments. However, in 2020, when this post is being written, the threshold is $1,260 for almost all people. This means that, even if you work, if you are making less than $1,260 per month, you may be able to qualify for Social Security benefits. Thus, for example, someone who is only able to work a half-time job at $10 per hour is not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" because they only earn around $800 to $900 per month.

If you have costs that you incur as a result of your disability, you may be able to deduct some of those costs from your income before it is determined that you qualify. For example, if you make $1500 per month, but spend $600 on medication to treat your disability, you might also qualify.

The bottom line is that you should not assume, simply because your disability allows you to work on a part-time basis, that you will not qualify for Social Security. If you are in such a situation, you should consider reaching out to the SSA or to a qualified attorney who can evaluate your potential claim in more detail.

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