Can I Work While Applying For Social Security Disability?

When you’re applying for Social Security Disability benefits, you may wonder if you’re allowed to work while you wait for the results of your claim.

This is one of the most common questions I get as a disability lawyer.

It’s understandable that you might have this question because the process to get benefits can be quite lengthy.

Once you’re awarded Social Security Disability, you have a new source of income to help you support yourself and stabilize your life when you can’t work due to health problems.

But how are you supposed to survive in the meantime?

Social Security won’t grant you any benefits while they’re still processing your application. And if they decide you’re able to do what they call “substantial gainful activity,” they will deny your benefits outright.

As a disability attorney for people in Wisconsin, I’ve helped thousands of people through this process.

Let’s look closer at the consequences of working while applying for Social Security Disability benefits.

Social Security Disability and “Substantial Gainful Activity”

I want to be clear on one thing: The whole point of Social Security Disability benefits is to help you because medical conditions leave you unable to work.

So if you’re still able to work while you apply, that raises questions.

Clients often ask me if they can still work on a part-time basis while they apply.

The “substantial gainful activity” standard from the Social Security Administration (SSA) puts a dollar amount on how much work is too much to qualify for disability benefits.

As of 2022, for example, you couldn’t exceed $1,350 per month in earnings and still get benefits. If you have blindness, the number goes up to $2,260.

But you have to be careful.

You must present yourself in an honest and accurate manner.

I advise against moves like deliberately limiting your work hours so Social Security doesn’t end your disability claim. That’s not honest. It may even be fraudulent.

So What Should I Do if I Need Income While Waiting for Social Security Disability?

Whenever I am asked about working while applying for disability benefits, I give my clients this advice:

You should be as active as you feel comfortable, subject to any restrictions placed on you by your medical treatment providers. Any level of work or activity you engage in is relevant to Social Security’s evaluation of your physical and mental abilities. If your work activity causes Social Security to find that you do not meet the standard for disability benefits, then you simply aren’t eligible.

If you truly are unable to work any substantial amount, you may face a dire financial situation while you wait for benefits. This is an incredibly hard time, no matter how you look at it.

You may need to seek out aid from other government programs, non-profit groups, churches, your family, or anywhere else you can turn to get by while you wait.

While I would never advise anyone to purposely not work if they can work, there is one exception that occurs fairly rarely.

Especially for more senior workers—generally 55 or older—if you qualify for disability benefits you may get a “disability freeze” on how Social Security calculates your later retirement benefits.

Social Security determines the amount of your retirement benefits by averaging many years of your income together. A “freeze” saves you from having a period of low or no income due to disability seriously reduces your average.

So if you could work a very small amount, this is a time when you possibly shouldn’t.

I’ll talk more about that in a future blog post.

And always remember, if health problems have made it impossible for you to work, my disability law firm can help you get through the complicated process of securing disability benefits that make your life easier.

Contact us today!

Written by Tim Geary.

Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.

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