When You May Be Able to Work While Collecting SSDI Benefits

When an illness, injury, or chronic condition leaves you unable to work, you may be entitled to collect Social Security disability benefits. If you qualify, these benefits offer some financial support when you are physically unable to earn a living. In most cases, if there is work that you are able to do—or if you recover enough so that you can return to the work you once did—you will no longer qualify for benefits. Because the benefits are designed to take the place of the earnings you have lost due to your disability, you cannot collect them and earn a salary as well. However, there are exceptions to this general rule.

You May Not Engage in Substantial Gainful Activity

If your disabling condition improves after rest, treatment, and rehabilitation, you may be anxious to do something productive once again. While SSDI can be a life-saving benefit program, it can be frustrating to feel like you are prohibited from engaging in meaningful work, especially if you gradually become physically able to do some activity. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not completely prohibit paid activity, but if you make more than a certain amount each month, you will lose your eligibility for SSDI benefits. The threshold for what is considered “too much work” is called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). From a financial standpoint, SGA in 2017 means you are earning more than $1,170 per month (or $1,920 if you are blind).

However, the SSA may also stop your benefits if they determine that you are engaging in substantial work—or work you claimed you were unable to do in your initial application—regardless of pay. As an example, if you had to quit your job as a factory foreman because of a disabling back injury, you may be able to work at a desk job for a few hours a week while collecting benefits, but you would likely lose SSDI benefits if you worked as a landscaper, even if your reported earnings where less than the SGA minimum.

A Trial Work Period Is Permitted

So what if you think you may have recovered enough to return to full-time work, but you are afraid you will lose your benefits and then re-injure yourself? You would not want to go through the application process all over again. Fortunately, the SSA does allow people who are collecting SSDI to return to work on a trial basis without losing their monthly benefits. The following rules apply to trial work periods:

  • You may earn more than the SGA allowance.
  • The trial work period may continue for no more than nine months.
  • The SSA will consider any month in which you earn more than $910 (in 2020) a trial work month.
  • If you are self-employed, any month in which you work more than 80 hours will be considered a trial work month.
  • Once you have completed the nine-month trial work period, you may still receive benefits for any month in which your earnings fall below the SGA level.
  • This extended period of eligibility lasts for 36 months.

If you are able to continue working after the nine-month trial period, your eligibility for benefits will continue for five more years, meaning even if you are earning too much to get the monthly SSDI benefit, your benefits will be automatically reinstated if you become disabled again during that five-year period.

Consult a New Mexico SSDI Attorney to Be Clear on the Rules

If you worked with an attorney to apply for your initial disability benefits, that attorney should remain a valuable resource for information about continued eligibility. The SSDI attorneys at Keller & Keller pride themselves on the continued relationships they have with their SSDI clients. Contact our Albuquerque office for more information about our Social Security Disability legal services. We are happy to answer your questions about an initial application, filing an appeal, protecting your eligibility, and returning to work.


James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller