How Much Can I Make While Receiving Social Security Disability?

Social Security disability applicants often find that they must try to work to eat, both during the wait for approval and after benefits start. If you have applied for Social Security disability, you already know some of the rules. Social Security bases your monthly payment on your work history, once you qualify as disabled by its standards. Social Security determines disability based on medical evidence and your inability to participate in substantial gainful activity. You probably call that work.

Substantial Gainful Activity

If you earn more than $1,000 a month in 2011, you are participating in substantial gainful activity by Social Security standards and do not qualify for Social Security disability. Blind individuals reached substantial gainful activity at $1,640 in 2011. Disabled college students receiving Social Security disability may earn $6,600 a year or $1,640 a month. Social Security encourages working once your benefits are approved and provides work incentives and programs that allow a disability recipient to work, earn income and continue to receive Social Security disability benefits.

Trial Work Period

As of 2011, once your disability benefits begin, you may earn $720 a month during the trial work period and continue to collect full Social Security disability benefits. The trial work period is a rolling five years in which you have nine months of work in excess of $720 or self-employment work in excess of 80 hours in a month. Consecutive working months are not required. Once you complete nine months during the five-year period, you go to the extended period of eligibility.

Extended Period of Eligibility

You have 36 months of extended eligibility when you can work at the substantial gainful activity level of $1,000 and above. The first month you earn over $1,000, you no longer meet the disability standards. Social Security disability pays for that month and two more months as a grace period. If you are still within the 36 months of extended benefits and fall below the substantial gainful activity limit of $1,000, Social Security reinstates your benefits without reapplication. If you lose your job during this extended period, you can fall back on Social Security disability benefits so long as you continue to be disabled. You may get credit for extra expenses caused by working with your disability and reduce your income by some months.

Extended Medical Care

Once you are off Social Security disability, you continue to have medical coverage available through Medicare for 93 months or seven years and nine months. You may qualify for assistance with Medicare premiums through your state as well. You also may qualify for 45 percent reduced premium on Part A or hospitalization insurance coverage if you do not receive free Part A Medicare benefits. Inquire at your local Social Security office for information about your state.