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Getting SSDI before I quit my job?

This question is closely related to a previous post I wrote about ensuring you will win SSDI benefits before you quit your job, but the answer is a bit different. Disability applicants have heard the horror stories about the months that they might have to wait to get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and many are beginning to wonder if they need to keep working full-time until they know for sure they are approved. Unfortunately, while this may seem like a good idea, it will not work.
Construction worker in San Francisco.

How does the Social Security Administration (SSA) determine if I am disabled?

Understanding how the Social Security Administration makes their disability determination is the first step to understanding how much you can work while you apply and avoid jeopardizing your SSDI claim. First, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), you are NOT disabled if you are able to perform what the Social Security Administration (SSA) refers to as substantial gainful activity.

Currently substantial gainful activity or SGA work is considered making more than $1010 per month in gross earnings for the non-blind or $1640 for the blind. Now that seems simple enough, but making that amount of money performing work is simply what the SSA considers “gainful” work. But what if you don’t make that much money but you are able to work almost full-time?

Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not just looking at gainful work; they are also determining if your work is “substantial.” Claimants are always asking what the SSA considers too much work, but this is a bit more difficult to define. Generally, if you work more than 20-25 hours per week, regardless of the pay, you are crossing into a gray area where the SSA is very likely to assume that with a bit more effort you could work full-time, and they are likely to deny your claim.

In fact, we have had several disability applicants ask if their part-time work is jeopardizing their SSDI claim and the answer is it most definitely it might be. The SSA only awards SSDI to claimants they believe are 100% disabled. The SSA does not offer partial disability benefits. So, if you are able to work it may be more difficult to prove that you could not work more hours or you could not work a less strenuous job full-time.

What are my options?

Ideally, you would submit your SSDI disability application and thirty days later you would have your disability check. This almost never happens. Up to 75% of disability applicants are denied the first time they apply. Many SSDI applicants never win SSDI benefits, and others fight for years through multiple disability appeals.

If you are working now and believe that in the future you will have to quit due to your health I recommend that you begin saving money now for the months that you may have to live without a paycheck while waiting for your SSDI application to be processed. What are other steps you can take?

  1. Go to a doctor and get great medical records which state exactly why you cannot work.

  2. Review the criteria for SSDI and make sure you have enough work credits.

  3. Complete the SSDI application accurately.

  4. Talk to a disability lawyer.

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