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Is part-time work keeping me from getting disability benefits?

Every day on our forum our disability claimants ask the question, “Can I work part-time and get SSDI benefits?” There is a great question. There is the official answer provided by the SSA and then there is the “unofficial” view or biases that many disability examiners and administrative law judges may have toward claimants who have decided that they can work part-time.  This blog will address both issues.

Working while applying for SSDI benefits

Officially, under the SSA rules, you are allowed to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if you are not working and performing what the SSA terms “substantial gainful activity

The amount you can earn varies by year, but in 2012, the SSA will allow the non-blind to make$1,010 and statutorily blind individuals to make $1,690. If you are making more than this amount you are performing what the SSA terms “gainful” work and you will be automatically denied SSDI benefits.

What if you are working a lot of hours but you are not making a gainful amount? The SSA could consider working too many hours as “substantial” and would automatically deny you SSDI benefits, even if you were making less than the gainful amounts outlined above.

In fact, the SSA may consider your “work” substantial even if it is not generating a profit or if it is illegal. Consider the volunteer worker or student who attends school 40 hours per week. The SSA is likely to assume that if they have the stamina and physical ability to perform these actions that they also could perform work.

How does the SSA “unofficially” view work?

What is not generally discussed and may not be an official policy of the SSA is how they actually view part-time work. You may never hear the SSA state that working part-time may hurt a claimant’s chances of getting SSDI benefits, but it is not hard to imagine that if you are working 15 to 20 hours per week (but making less than the amount allowed) the SSA examiners and judges may be more inclined to decide that with just a little more effort you could work a few more hours per week and you may not be disabled.

This view would even be more prevalent if you are working a “light” or “medium” job. The SSA is very likely to determine that although you may be unable to work your current job, you might be able to retrain and work more hours at a sedentary job.

Should you quit your part-time job when you apply for SSDI benefits to increase your chances of winning SSDI? This is a tough question and there is no right answer for every claimant.

Another big consideration with part-time work is considering how this is affecting your SSDI payment. Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits are based on your average earnings and your payroll tax contribution to Social Security.  If you begin to work part-time and you do this for many years the amount of SSDI you are entitled to receive will be reduced. Many claimants will be better served by stopping work entirely and applying for SSDI rather than allowing their work hours and pay too dwindle, thus reducing their SSDI benefits.
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