For the year 2018, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers gross earnings (before tax withholding) of $1,180 per month to constitute “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). In 2019, $1220 per month is SGA. Note the SSA tends to review the amounts of income received within a calendar month as the amount earned that month, though the paychecks may reflect days worked the previous month.
Normally, when a person engages in SGA, the SSA considers them to be not disabled and therefore not entitled to further disability benefits. However, you may earn SGA during a trial work period.
After you have been disabled for at least 12 months, you may earn money during what is known as a trial work period (TWP). For the year 2018, gross earnings of $850 in a month as an employee constitute a TWP. In 2019, earning $880 results in a TWP month. The regulations are more complex concerning self-employment. Once you earn TWP-level earnings for nine (9) months, not necessarily consecutively, your case would be reviewed to see if you are still disabled. Of course, your case may be reviewed in the meantime, and SSA can terminate your benefits any time if they find you are no longer disabled.
Once your TWP is over, you enter a three-year “reentitlement period.” The first time you earn SGA during this period, your disability will be considered to have ceased, and you will get benefits for that month plus two more months. Then any month you earn SGA you will not get benefits, and any month you do not earn SGA you will get benefits – no new application required – so long as the only reason your disability ceased is your SGA earnings (and not, e.g., due to medical improvement).
If you begin working, keep your pay stubs or other records for all your earnings, whether you are paid by cash or check.
If you are self-employed, keep track of the hours you spend working, and the hours of anyone else helping you manage the business.
The SSA should deduct your expenses from your earnings before determining whether you have performed SGA.
In addition, make a note of any accommodations your employer provides due to your impairments, that are different from what they would provide other co-workers, such as extra breaks, special chairs or equipment, or lower productivity. If the work ends, note the reason it ended, and whether it was due to your impairments.