What Are Allowable Earnings in Disability?

Receiving Social Security disability does not prevent you from working.

If you have filed and won a Social Security disability claim, you are receiving monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration. The agency has approved your claim and adjudged that your disability prevents you from doing your past relevant work, or other work within your limitations, on a full-time basis. However, you do have the right to earn income while on disability.


Trial Work Period

While you are on disability, Social Security rules provide for a trial work period, during which you may work and earn an unlimited income. The trial work period is limited to nine months; each month in which you earn $720 or more counts toward the period. During the trial work period, your full disability benefit continues.


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Substantial Gainful Activity

Once you have passed the trial work period, your income is limited to what is known as the substantial gainful activity amount. In 2011, this amount is $1,000 per month, before taxes. If you earn more than the substantial gainful activity amount after completing a trial work period, your disability benefits will be suspended.


Five-Year Limit

The nine months of the trial work period do not have to be consecutive. They are counted over a maximum span of five years. If you work and earn more than $700 per month in nine months over a five-year period, then you have completed your trial work period.



If your benefits are suspended, but you then find that you cannot continue to work because of your disability, you can have the benefits reinstated simply by requesting Social Security do so. This expedited reinstatement can take place within a maximum of five years after your benefits stop. If more than five years have passed, you have to file a new disability application.



Any time you return to work, you must report that fact to Social Security. You must inform them of your employer's name, address and phone number, the nature of your work, and the amount of money you are earning. You must also report self-employment to Social Security. If you fail to report any earnings from employment, Social Security can immediately suspend your benefits for noncompliance with the rules.