Must I stop working before I can apply for Social Security Disability (SSD)?
Learn when you can apply for Social Security Disability benefits while you are still working and see how work earnings relate to your eligibility.
Work and Applying for Disability
You do not have to be completely incapacitated to be eligible for any of the three kinds of Social Security disability benefits or to be medically or financially eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You do not even have to stop working entirely. You do have to prove with medical documentation and vocational information that you are unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). The first step in this process is either to stop working or reduce your work to below SGA level.
Evaluation of whether someone is performing SGA is tailored to the person’s situation, but certain guidelines exist. In 2019, if your gross wages reach or exceed $1,220 per month ($2,040 for blind individuals) after being reduced by your out-of-pocket Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s), your work likely will be determined to be SGA and your claim is likely to be denied based on your work activity alone. However, if you are being subsidized by your employer, it could be determined that your work is not substantial gainful activity because you are not earning the entire amount you are being paid. More information about employer subsidies and how to document them can be found in our article What Is Disability According to Social Security Law?
Self-employment profit is also compared to the SGA dollar threshold, but the review is not limited to your earnings. The number of hours you are working per month and how essential to the business your duties are also come into consideration. For example, you might be the owner of a company who is working four hours a week. During those four hours you decide which jobs to bid on and how much to bid. Because your work is essential to the functioning of the business, the work might be considered substantial and worth more than you are being paid by the business. If so, the work will be judged gainful as well. In another circumstance, the work of a self-employed person might be found substantial if he is putting in nearly forty hours a week with a profit of $1,000 a month. The work could be considered SGA because that number of work hours in that industry would normally result in gainful employment at the SGA level.
Impairment-Related Work Expenses (IRWE’s)
Let’s take a closer look at IRWE’s. Any out of pocket expense you have because of your disabling condition can be claimed as an IRWE if the item or service purchased enables you to work. IRWE’s can include items you would need to pay for because of your disability even if you were not working. Some examples of IRWE’s are certain attendant care services, medical devices, equipment, prostheses, and similar items and services. Also, medications taken to control your disabling condition are typically deductible as IRWE’s.
In summary, you usually do not have to stop working completely to successfully apply for Social Security Disability if your reduction in work hours and earnings is the result of physical or mental impairment.