What Substantial Gainful Activity Means for Disability Claims

What Substantial Gainful Activity Means for Disability Claims

One thing the Social Security Administration looks at when you apply for disability benefits is this question: Are you unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (SGA)? In regular English, that means: Can you still work and earn enough money to support yourself?

For those who apply for disability benefits, the answer must be “no.”

But things start to get a bit confusing when we think about part-time work. For example, if you work part-time, does that count as substantial gainful activity? Is having income from part-time work a problem for receiving benefits? The short answer is it all comes down to how much you earn from your part-time job in a month.



What Exactly Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The Internal Revenue Service defines substantial gainful activity as performing significant duties over a reasonable time period while working for pay or profit.

What Is the Threshold for Substantial Gainful Activity?

Working part-time means the SSA will likely deny you disability benefits. For you to qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), you cannot earn more than $1,310 per month. This is the same SGA income limit you must meet order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income. The SSA also considers “passive income” toward your SGA threshold if it’s over the monthly income limit for 2021.

The Nature of Your Disability Matters

A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. For example, the Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for blind applicants. In 2021, blind applicants can earn up to $2,190 per month and still qualify for disability benefits. SGA for the blind does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. However, the SGA limit for non-blind claimants applies to SSDI and SSI disability benefits.

Both substantial gainful activity amounts generally change year over year with changes in the national average wage index.

SSI versus SSDI

To be eligible for SSI, you must meet all the following conditions:

  • Little or no monthly income and few, if any, financial resources/assets
  • Have a doctor diagnose you as medically disabled
  • Either not work at all, or earning less than the substantial gainful activity level in job wages

To qualify for SSDI, you must must:

  • Have worked full-time and paid Social Security taxes for 5 in the last 10 years (i.e., earned 40 Social Security work credits)
  • Be medically disabled and either not working, or earning less than the substantial gainful activity level in job wages
  • Have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from working at least 12 months in a row, or is expected to result in your death

Trial Work Period

After you become eligible for disability benefits, you may attempt to start working again if your illness or condition improves. As an incentive, the SSA provides a trial work period when you can earn money working and still collect benefits. After nine months, though, the SSA will suspend your disability benefits if you earn too much money.

You May Qualify for Legal Assistance

If you’re not sure whether working part-time or your passive income is enough to disqualify you for disability benefits, ask a lawyer for free.

Reach out today to talk about your circumstances with an experienced disability attorney or advocate. Ensure you receive the disability benefits you need and deserve! Every lawyer in our network offers free phone calls to answer your claim questions within one business day. Having a lawyer file your application makes you 2x more likely to win disability benefits the first time you apply!

In fact, those who qualify for legal assistance through our website typically receive $10,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits. People who apply on their own without legal assistance usually wait 18-24 months for their first disability check. Unfortunately, the SSA approves less than 2 in every 5 disability claimants each year. That’s why legal assistance makes such a huge difference when you apply. And since these lawyers work on contingency, you’ll pay $0 for legal assistance if the SSA won’t approve your claim. But if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation online now.

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