A few weeks ago, I conducted a Social Security disability hearing in which the medical proof supported a finding for disability pursuant to the Social Security Guidelines. Unfortunately, the claimant’s earnings records, which were made a part of the record the morning of the hearing, indicated that the claimant earned well above the “substantial gainful activity” and disqualified him for benefits.
Having an incorrect earnings record can harm the case in many ways. In Title II (SDS) cases, the claimant needs to be “insured” (have sufficient quarters of coverage from earnings) in order to be eligible to collect disability insurance. If a claimant’s earnings records do not accurately reflect all of their earnings, they may not be considered insured and therefore lose benefits that they have earned.
In both SSI and Title II cases, the issue of earnings arises at the first step of the disability evaluation. The Administrative Law Judge is required to determine if the claimant is working and if so, to determine whether it is substantial gainful activity. In 2014 substantial gainful activity was equivalent to earnings of $1,070.00 a month. It is not uncommon in a Social Security disability case for the claimant to stop working, but then again resume working at fewer hours. If the person earns above the” substantial gainful activity” level, he or she is not considered disabled. The Administrative Law Judge will look at the earnings records to make this determination.
The earnings records also comes up at the third step in a disability evaluation when the Administrative Law Judge is trying to determine what kind of work the claimant performed in the past. The Administrative Law Judge will look back at the last 15 years. Over the years there have been cases in which employment was listed that the claimant did not perform or employment was not listed that the claimant had performed.
Obtaining Your Earnings Record
It is in the best interest of all Social Security Disability applicants to obtain their earnings record and check it. The first step is to go online and set up “My Social Security”. After creating this account, the claimant is able to obtain an online earnings record. This will not be a detailed record, but it does show the years of employment and check to see if the amounts listed are correct. There is no charge to obtain this record online. If a more detailed earnings statement is necessary, it is necessary to complete SSA Form 750-F4. It costs $102.00 for this information. Often a claimant’s Social Security Lawyer will not see earnings information in the record until a few weeks before the hearing if then. There have been instances where the Judge orders a new report to be run during the hearing. By then it is too late if there are errors in the record.
With Social Security’s expanded online access, it is now possible to check online and obtain at least the basic information. The earnings record is one of the most important components of a Social Security disability case and correct information is essential for adequate preparation and favorable decisions.