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What are my income limits on Social Security?

Since its inception, Social Security has benefitted hundreds of millions of Americans in need. A large portion of these benefits go to those with severe disabilities who are unable to earn sufficient wages.

To be sure Social Security goes to those who need it most, income plays a large role in deciding who receives Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supple-mental Security Income (SSI).

What are the income limits in order to not qualify for benefits?

Because Social Security handles so many unique situations, there are many facets to this question. To answer it, we will start with the basic numbers and explore the exceptions/details from there.

Keep in mind that your situation may be unique, as not all income is evaluated by the SSA. Some forms as income, such as child support, will not count against your total monthly earned income.

To qualify for SSDI, you must earn less than $1,170 per month. To qualify for SSI, you must earn less than $735 per month.

While these numbers do fluctuate, the income limit typically falls around this range. Anyone who earns more than this amount from jobs or under-the-table work qualifies as engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). Those who have SGA are considered independent enough to earn a living and do not qualify to receive disability insurance from Social Security. However, due to the national average wage index (which is used to create these income limits), these numbers tend to increase a bit each year.

Also important to note: the income limit to qualify for SSDI is raised to $1,950 for those who are blind. This is because the US government recognizes blindness as a unique disability in a world so catered to those with vision. This additional income is intended to cover any additional expenses that those who are blind need to survive.

Some forms of income are not included in these limits.

These differ slightly from SSDI to SSI. In regards to SSDI, most forms of income that are not made directly from work wages or under-the-table work are not included in substantial gainful activity. This includes investments, interest, a spouse’s income, or other assets.

When referring to SSI, it gets a bit trickier. Some assets and interest may count towards the monthly total while others may not. However, income from a spouse does affect the limit for SGA — couples have an income limit of $1,103/month.

Even if you may have substantial gainful activity, you can still apply for SSDI/SSI.

Situations vary greatly from person to person. Depending on the nature of your disability and the nature of your income, you may still qualify for SSDI or SSI. Do not let these numbers prevent you from applying altogether — it is always better to apply and not qualify than not apply at all.

How Different Things Affect SSI

Because SSI is a needs-based disability program it means that anyone applying for SSI must only have income and assets that fall below a threshold. Those who have "countable income" above the federal benefit rate (FBR), which in 2020 was $783 for individuals and $1,175 a month for a married couple, are not deemed eligible for SSI.

Anyone who has some countable income, which falls below the FBR, will face having their monthly SSI payments decreased by the value of the countable income. If an applicant for SSI has no countable income at all and is eligible for SSI, he or she will be awarded the total FBR paid monthly.

Because SSI is viewed as a need-based program, this means to qualify for benefit payments a number of factors concerning your income and assets are taken into consideration. Any adult in receipt of SSI payments will have any assets and other financial resources considered as well as income before the SSI benefit can be paid. These could include any of the following:

  • retirement funds;
  • interest received as income from investments;
  • support provided by family and friends;
  • cash or assets from inheritance.

Any assets that have a monetary value like:

  • houses;
  • cars and other motor vehicles; and
  • commercial rental property.

If you own only one home or one motor vehicle it is unlikely the value of these will be used in an SSI assessment. It is only likely to be evaluated if you own more than one vehicle or house.

However, if you are saving money by living with relatives or friends and paying no rent this could affect whether you qualify for SSI benefits. Additionally, if you are married to someone who is in receipt of SSI benefits you will receive a joint SSI benefit. This does arise typically every year based on cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

If a person who has not yet reached aged 18 applies for SSI, the SSA is likely to consider both the income and financial resources of both the child and his/her parents. These could include the parents’ income from working in a job as well as any of the following:

  • alimony,
  • child support,
  • retirement benefits,
  • investment income.

How to Lose SSDI Benefits

The commonest reason why the SSA would stop a person’s Social Security Disability (SSDI) payments is because the recipient has gone back to work, even though this isn’t always the case. If you go back to your normal job when in receipt of SSDI benefits the SSA will decide if you are taking part in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).

The key factor in deciding if work is considered to be SGA is the amount someone is paid. In 2020, somebody is typically considered to be engaging in SGA if his/her earnings exceed $1,260 or $2,110 for someone who is blind.

For example, if you are earning $200 weekly in a part-time job, you are not working above the SGA limit. If you are spending a lot of time at work but what you are doing constitute SGA despite the earnings being below the SGA threshold you could have your SSDI stopped.

However, if you are working and make over SGA you can be entered into a trial work period. This period allows somebody who is receiving SSDI benefits to try to go back to work without being told they will lose their SSDI eligibility.

In the majority of cases, you should be able to work for up to 9 months during a trial work period and you will still continue to receive your SSDI regardless of the amount you are earning. When the trial work period comes to an end and you are still taking part in a job earning above the SGA level the SSA is likely to decide you are no longer disabled so your Social Security Disability payments will stop.

Other reasons why your SSDI benefits will cease are the following:

  • You have reached retirement age at 66 years and you will now no longer receive SSDI, but you will be eligible for social security retirement benefits instead.
  • When put in prison your SSDI benefits will stop after 30 days of incarceration and will only continue the month after your release. You may be treated differently if you are taking part in a rehabilitation program.
  • If you are convicted of felony but you are not incarcerated your SSDI benefits may cease but if convicted of a misdemeanor this will not have any effect on your SSDI benefits unless you are put I n jail for one month or more.
  • If your parents are in receipt of SSDI and you are receiving benefits as a dependent under 18 years old when you turn 18 the SSDI benefits for you may stop.

How to Maintain your SSDI Benefits

Being approved for SSDI benefits avoids financial hardship and most applicants have had to endure a difficult process to get these entitlements so in order to hold onto them you need to be aware of what you need to do. Two things you should do to keep your SSDI benefits active are as follows:

  • Keep seeing your doctor as this confirms you still have a disability;
  • Maintain contact with the SSA on a regular basis;
  • Notify the SSA if there are any changes to your circumstances such as: changing address, charged with an offense, altering your name, losing custody of a child who is in receipt of SSI benefits and taking up employment.

In the majority of cases when your situation is reviewed by the SSA, it is typically confirming your ongoing need for disability benefits. If you can provide medical evidence that your health has not improved and if you have maintained contact with the SSA your SSDI benefits will probably remain the same. If the SSA decides to review your case and you lose your SSDI as a result you may appeal the decision within ten days of the SSA notification.

Consulting with a Social Security Attorney

Social Security can be complicated and very intimidating to apply for. It is also vital that everything is completed correctly so that your chances of receiving benefits are their highest.

To maximize your potential to receive benefits, consider getting assistance from a Social Security attorney. Their expertise in filing paperwork and presenting cases can make all the difference you need to qualify for the benefits you deserve.