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Continue work or file for SSDI?

Many workers may not know for sure whether they should pursue employment or file for SSDI disability benefits. This can be especially true for those who may be able to work part-time but are not able to work a full-time job. Recently on our disability forum a worker asked, “Should I file for disability if I cannot work full-time or is better to work part-time?”


Am I disabled?


Before filing for disability it is important to understand how the SSA makes their disability determination. The SSA will consider you disabled if you have a severe mental or physical health condition which is expected to last for at least 12 continuous months and does not allow you to perform substantial gainful activity. If you can work too many hours and/or make too much money you will not be considered disabled, regardless of the severity of your condition.

Before deciding whether you should attempt to keep working or simply apply for SSDI benefits, however, you should review several issues discussed below.

Can I work part-time and apply for SSDI benefits?


Claimants may be able to work very part-time and receive SSDI benefits, but if they work too much or make too much money they will be automatically denied. In 2015 the SSA states that gainful work is generating earnings of $1090 per month. If you are able to generate this amount of income the SSA will consider you NOT disabled and will automatically deny your SSDI claim.

Consider also, work does not have to generate this amount of income to be considered “substantial.” For example, if you are working too many hours, regardless of your income, the SSA may determine your work is “substantial” and deny your disability claim.

Unfortunately, SSA disability rules do not clearly identify how much work they consider substantial. Can you work 10 or 20 hours? Maybe, but the SSA may claim that if you can work that many hours you could work a few more and you are not disabled.

The reduction of my taxable earnings


Another issue to consider before deciding whether to work part-time or file for SSDI benefits is the possible reduction in your taxable earnings. For example, if you stop working or reduce your earnings over an extended period of time and do not pay Social Security taxes your average indexed monthly earnings will start to decrease. Ultimately, this could lower your SSDI monthly benefit.

How does the SSA calculate my SSDI benefits?


The amount you will be paid in SSDI benefits, if approved, is calculated using a complex weighted formula which is based on the amount of income you have paid in Social Security taxes (covered earnings). According to the SSA, your average covered earnings over a period of years is known as your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME).

For example, most SSDI claimants will generate enough covered earnings to receive between $300 and $2,200 in SSDI benefits. The maximum disability benefit in 2015 is $2,663. If you need more information about your potential SSDI payout you can review your statement online at You can also contact the SSA directly at 1-800-772-1213.