It is possible to work part time and not lose disability benefits. However, it depends largely on how much you earn and what type of disability benefits you are receiving. If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and you begin work, the Social Security Administration will reduce your benefits by $1.00 for every $2.00 you earn after the first $65.00. This means that you could earn so much working part time that the SSI benefits will terminate. But unless your benefits have stopped because of your earnings for an entire year, the Social Security Administration will start up your SSI benefits again if your earnings decrease. After a year of receiving no benefits it will be necessary to apply again.
Substantial Gainful Activity
If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) and your earnings are below what the Social Security Administration calls the “substantial gainful activity” amount your benefits will neither stop or be reduced because of earnings. That is, you can continue to get your full disability benefits while you work part time. It is also possible to earn more than the “substantial gainful activity” amount and still receive your full benefits during the nine-month trial work period.
You can earn up to the “substantial gainful activity” amount and still keep your full Social Security disability benefits. The substantial gainful activity amount is an absolute cut off point if your earnings average more than the substantial gainful activity amount, even $1.00 more, the Social Security disability benefits will stop after you have used up your nine-month trial work period no matter how disabled you are from a medical standpoint.
Trial Work Period Services
If you are going to work part time and you want to avoid problems keeping your benefits period, it is best to keep your income below the substantial gainful activity amount. In fact, because there are advantages to keeping your income below what the Social Security Administration calls the “trial work period services” amount which in 2014 was $820.00 per month, this is what is recommended if you are receiving Social Security disability benefits. This way you would not use up your trial work period months; you can save them for later use if you ever decide to go back to work on a full time basis. If your claim is SSI, the trial work period rules do not apply. For those people already receiving SSI benefits, the substantial gainful activity amount rules do not apply either.
It is best not to use up trial work periods until you are ready to return to work on a full time basis because the trial work period can be valuable, we recommend that you do not waste it on part time work. To keep from wasting the trial work period, you need to keep your monthly income below the trial work period service amount.
The trial work period rules allow you to earn any amount of money for nine months and still receive full disability benefits. This allows you to attempt to return to full time employment without losing your disability benefits. If you determine you can not work on a full time basis and stop working prior to the nine month period, your benefits will not be terminated.
Unfortunately, many people use up their trial work period months by working part- time. I have had some clients who worked part time while their claims are pending and used up their trial work period before being adjudged disabled. If your income exceeds the trial work period monthly amount for nine months at any time since you applied for benefits, you will have used up the trial work period. This is true even if the months are not consecutive. Once you use up the nine month trial period, it is gone.
The Social Security Administration counts gross income, not take home pay. There are no deductions that can be taken against your gross income to reduce it below the trial work period monthly amount.
Reporting to the Social Security Administration
If you begin any work, you must report it to the Social Security Administration immediately. But it is not clear when you must provide proof of earnings. This seems to vary from office to office. When reporting employment to the Social Security Administration, ask when you are required to income documentation. Be sure to keep all documents provided to you and get the name of the person you speak with. Make it clear that you are receiving disability benefits, not retirement because the rules are different.