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Social Security Disability
Dec 2, 2013

According to the Social Security's own rules, a person on SSDI can earn up to $750 a month without it having an effect on one's monthly payment and disability status. I would very much like to accept a part-time position as an adjunct instructor at a local university, but I've heard terrible stories about the SSA. I've heard that if you earn even a $1 more than the allowed $750, the SSA will dock an entire month's payment. Also, I've been told that if the SSA knows that you are working, the agency will almost certainly investigate your status. According to this information, it seems that the SSA rule to allow the disabled to earn a few bucks a month is really just a ruse to remove you from SSDI. It's hard for me to believe that the SSA is that cynical, and I often wonder if the stories I hear omit important information. Can you give us some insight this matter?

Response from Mr. Chambers

The do enforce their dollar limits, but they are quite different from how you described them. I'm happy to review Social Security's rules for working while on SSDI, but first, let's look at the rumors about how SSA reacts to you working.

Like you, I don't believe Social Security (SSA) is that cynical either, and I have not seen it borne out in my years working with clients on SSDI and SSI. In my experience, their review of your medical condition, called Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR), is on a schedule that has nothing to do with working, but whether or not you have a condition that may show improvement over time. I do not believe that changes when someone tries to work for several reasons, first, if they always did that everyone would know and people wouldn't try to work.

Second, SSA is one of the federal government's biggest bureaucracies. Personally, I'm amazed they do what they do processing the paperwork and sending out something like 50,000,000 payments a month. They just don't have time to spend matching work issues and studying files and plotting removal from the rolls.

Third, and least importantly, with 25 years of working with people on SSDI and SSI, I have never seen any relationship between working and medical reviews.

A word of caution, there are lots of websites that deal with Social Security on the web, and many have helpful information. But keep in mind, if a person is not having any trouble or problem with SSA, they are not going to be on those sites, so the sites usually end up giving a very skewed view of how many problems there are.

Now, on to the work rules. They are fairly involved, so I recommend that anyone on SSDI or SSI contemplating some kind of work to get the Red Book. Red Book. It gives all the details you will need.

SSDI has some specific limits about work. Note that SSI work rules are very different from SSDI.

SSDI allows a person to work nine months and earn as much as they want without affecting their benefits. That is called the Trial Work Period (TWP). The nine months do not have to be consecutive. For SSDI to even count a month as a Trial Work Month, you will have to have earnings in that month of over $770 (this is the new number for 2014). If you don't earn $770 in a month, it doesn't count, and I recommend my clients keep the paystubs, but not to bother to report it until they have used up enough Trial Work Months to see that they may use them all up. You will get your full SSDI payment each month either way.

Once you and SSDI agree that you have used up your 9 Trial Work Months, then the numbers change.

After that, Social Security looks to see if you earned "Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)" level. In 2014, SGA is $1,070/month. Any month you earn over SGA after the Trial Work Months are used up, you are not entitled to an SSDI payment for that month.

As you can imagine, this can get complicated, because SSA isn't going to know immediately if you did or didn't go over SGA. They will send the check anyway, and, if you earned over SGA, they will want it back. You must keep careful records to avoid having to return a large overpayment.

In summary, before going back to work, get the Red Book. Make sure you know the rules. Once you see the 9 Trial Work Months are going to all be used, go to Social Security with your pay records and work with them to report you future work activities.

Don't avoid working if you feel you can. It will not affect your eligibility, and it will honestly make you feel better if you can do some work.

Good luck, Jacques

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