Working While Disabled: Could You Be Earning More?

Man in wheelchair looking at computer, disabled while working

Workers who collect disability benefits can earn more in 2021 than in 2020 without losing their benefits. Every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes adjustments to its Social Security programs, changing the amount of payment received by beneficiaries and the qualifications for those payments. Here is a breakdown of the changes made to disability benefits in 2021.

Eligibility for Disability While Working

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants can qualify for benefits if they make less than $1,310 a month (up from $1,260 in 2020). Applicants who are blind can earn up to $2,190 a month (up from $2,110 per month in 2020).

How Work Affects SSDI Payments

People receiving SSDI and are trying to get back to work can make more in a trial work month. An SSDI applicant has to earn a monthly income of over $940 (up from $910 in 2020) for the month to be considered a trial work month. Once a trial work period of nine months, which do not need to be consecutive, is completed, one can still receive SSDI benefits for any month in which his or her earnings fell below $1,310 for 36 months.

How Work Affects SSI Payments

A person can receive SSI benefits of up to $794 per month (up from $783 in 2020). The SSA reduces the benefit a person receives by the amount of his or her countable income. Not all of a person’s income is considered countable income.

If a person’s only income is from his or her job, the SSA calculates the countable income by:

  1. Deducting the first $85 from his or her income
  2. Removing half of the remaining income

For instance, a person who earns $1,500 monthly from working has a countable income of $707.50 ($1500 – $85 =$1,415 ÷ 2 = $707.50). The person’s SSI amount would be reduced by the $707.50 of countable income, making him or her receive an SSI check of $86.50. Using the same formula, a person with gross wages of $317 would have a countable income of $116, meaning he or she would receive an SSI check of $678.

In states that make additional payments to SSI beneficiaries, the income limit may be higher. Several other factors affect a person’s monthly SSI amount. A disability attorney can help one understand and calculate his or her monthly benefit amount.

Suppose one stops receiving SSI payments because his or her countable income exceeds $794 per month but is later forced to quit the job because of his or her disability. The SSA reinstates the benefits without the person having to make a new application for up to five years.

For students getting SSI, the amount of income that can be excluded without losing eligibility has increased from $1,900 to $1,930. The annual limit is $7,770, up from $7,670 in 2020.


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