If you are receiving Social Security Disability benefits, (Not SSI) you can work as long as your pre-tax earnings stay below the prescribed limits. (If you receive SSI benefits the rules are different for you; refer to our section on working while receiving SSI payments.) This means you can work and supplement your Social Security check, possibly even get health insurance without worrying about Social Security cutting off your Disability benefits.
The catch is you have to be very careful and monitor your monthly gross income so that you do not go over the limits. If you do go over the limit, Social Security could place you in what they call “Disability Cessation” due to your earnings. If this happens to you they will stop your monthly check and could charge you a hefty overpayment by backdating the time your record went into “Disability Cessation.”
How do you safely work and keep your benefits? Always keep your earnings below the pre-tax limit; in 2006 this pre-tax limit is $860 per month. (If you are blind this amount is higher: $1,450 per month.) This $860 amount is what Social Security refers to as “Significant Gainful Activity” or SGA. If you are working and earning over this SGA amount Social Security figures you can work full time just like everyone else and don’t need Disability payments.
Understand that this SGA amount ($860 for 2006) is the upper limit for your earnings. There is another amount that Social Security tracks when it comes to your earnings. This amount is called a “Trial Work Month.” When you receive Social Security Disability benefits you are eligible for 9 Trial Work Months every five years. A “Trial Work Month” is any month that your earnings are higher than $620 pre-tax. ($620 is amount for 2006)
Trial work months are unique because you can earn any amount you like; these months are not subject to the SGA limit. For example, if you went over the limit one month and earned $1200, you’re still okay because Social Security will count this month as a trial work month. (As long as you haven’t used them all up, remember you only get 9 every 5 years) You can use your trial work months as a safety cushion if you go over the $860 limit. Don’t make a habit of going over because if you use up all your trial work months Social Security will evaluate your disability and could stop your benefits.
To be safe, never earn over the $860 limit. You will use up all of your trial work months doing this; however, Social Security will not stop your benefits or charge you a hefty overpayment. Remember that all of the dollar amounts quoted here are pre-tax amounts; this is before anything is deducted from your gross earnings. As soon as you start working be sure and notify Social Security by calling their toll-free number.