When you file an application for Social Security disability benefits, you are alleging you are unable to work due to limitations from mental or physical impairments. Social Security must find that you are unable to engage in any full-time work for a period of 12 months or more, or that your condition will result in death. The phrase “full-time” is used a bit differently by the Social Security Administration (SSA) than other agencies. If you continue to engage in work while your application is pending, the SSA will examine your work activity to determine whether it meets substantial gainful activity, the agency’s equivalent of full-time work. Per the SSA, the monthly SGA amount in 2019 is $1,220 for non-blind and $2,040 for statutorily blind individuals. Therefore, if your income is over this amount, your application for benefits will likely be denied. This amount changes every year, for example, in 2018 the amounts were $1,180 for non-blind applicants and $1,970 for blind applicants.
Once you are approved for benefits, you may continue to work and earn income, however the SSA will be more strict in terms of how much you can earn. Any earnings will flag your account and you will be evaluated for a trial work period. In 2019, if you earn more than $880 per month, you may be in danger of losing your disability benefits. If you exceed the earnings limit for longer than nine months, this can be evidence to show that your disability has ended, and your benefits may stop. This can also cause you to be overpaid, as the SSA can find that you received benefits during months where you were not eligible due to work activity.
Returning to work during the application process could also change the way your benefits may be paid to you. If you have a period of at least 12 months where you were not engaging in work, but your condition improves and you return to work, this is called a closed period of disability. This means you would not be entitled to ongoing benefits, but you may be eligible for a lump sum payment for the period of time you were actually unable to work.
If you intend to work part-time while applying for Social Security disability, it is imperative that you keep track of your earnings in the form of your W-2s, 1099s, or weekly paystubs. You must also inform your attorney representative helping you with the claim so they can keep you abreast of any changes in the rules regarding working part-time while filing.