How Much Can You Work While Receiving SSI Disability Benefits?

You can work as long as your countable income doesn't go above the SSI income limit.

By , J.D. University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney Seattle University School of Law
Updated 4/04/2024

One of the basic requirements for getting approved for disability benefits is that your medical condition is so severe it prevents you from working full-time. Social Security defines full-time work—which it calls substantial gainful activity (SGA)—as earnings at or above $1,550 per month in 2024.

Social Security adjusts the SGA amount every year to account for increases in the cost of living. If you're working above SGA when you apply for benefits, the agency will deny your application. But if you start to work part-time after you've already started receiving disability, you won't necessarily have your benefits terminated.

Can You Work While on SSI Disability?

Once you get approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), if you start working, Social Security will reduce your benefits by subtracting part of your income from your disability check. But if you go over the SSI monthly income limit, the agency will terminate your benefits. In 2024, going over the limit means making more than $943 for an individual and $1,415 for a couple—after some special deductions.

So if you start a part-time job where you make $15 an hour and work 10 hours per week—for a total of $600 in monthly income—you won't stop receiving disability benefits. You will, however, see the amount of your SSI check reduced. If you're thinking about returning to work, it's important to understand how SSI benefit amounts are calculated before you can figure out specifically how many hours you can work and how much money you can make while still receiving SSI.

How Much Money Can You Make and Still Get SSI?

For the year 2024, Social Security will pay up to $943 in SSI for an individual, not counting any supplemental benefits provided by your state. This amount is called the federal benefit rate. Your monthly SSI check will be the difference between the federal benefit rate and your countable income. Countable income generally consists of the following:

  • wages you're paid from your job
  • the value of any free food and shelter provided for you
  • support money from family or friends, and
  • veterans benefits or unemployment.

There are several important exceptions to the above sources of income. For example, not all of your wages from work are counted, and, if you're married, money that your spouse uses to pay the bills isn't considered support money (there are, of course, exceptions to the exceptions).

Earned Income Exclusion

Earned income means money you're paid from working. If you're working, Social Security will exclude the first $65 of your wages from your countable income and half of any wages you earned over $65. (Most people will also be able to take an additional $20 exclusion for all income, earned or unearned, in a month.) These exclusions reduce your countable income, meaning you can work more hours and make more money before it starts to affect your SSI benefit amount.

For example, if you work part-time making $1,565 per month—and you have no other source of income—Social Security will subtract $65 for the earned income exclusion (to get to $1,500), and then half the remaining amount to get to $750. That $750 is your countable income from work, and it will be deducted from your monthly SSI payment.

Assuming that your SSI payment is the 2024 standard federal benefit rate of $943, you would receive an SSI check in the amount of $193 ($943-$750). The SSI check gets smaller the more earned income you have, and eventually disappears. You can make about $1,900 a month before your SSI benefit is reduced to zero.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

If you're a student who is under the age of 22, Social Security may disregard up to $2,290 of your gross (pre-tax) wages per month when figuring out your countable income. There is an annual cap on this exclusion of $9,230 per calendar year (in 2024), so any money you earn over that amount will be considered countable income.

To take advantage of the student earned income exclusion, you must be attending school on a regular basis. Social Security considers students to be "regularly attending school" when they take one or more courses of study, and:

  • are in grades 7 through 12, taking classes for at least 12 hours per week
  • are home-schooled between grades 7 through 12 for at least 12 hours per week
  • are enrolled in a college or university, taking classes for at least 8 hours per week, or
  • are in a work-training program, taking at least 12 hours per week (or 15 if the program involves shop practice).

Students who aren't able to go to school because of an illness may also be eligible for this exclusion, such as when a student is homebound due to disability and is studying under the direction of a tutor.

Incentives to Help You Work While on Disability

Social Security encourages people who are receiving SSI to try to return to work. In addition to the income exclusions, the agency has created a number of incentives that allow people to work while on SSI without losing their eligibility for benefits.

Plan to Achieve Self-Support

Under a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program, you can save part of your income or other resources to be used to pay for tuition and books or work-related items. You can learn more about the PASS program and get an application form at Social Security's PASS webpage.

Impairment-Related Work Expenses

Impairment-related work expenses (IRWEs) are payments you make for disability-related items or services you need to do your job. IRWEs typically involve the cost of any specialized equipment or transportation you need to travel to and perform your work. Social Security can deduct some or all of the money you spend towards IRWEs from your countable income.

Some examples of IRWEs include the cost of:

  • medical devices or prosthetics
  • modifications to your work environment
  • specialized equipment or tools, and
  • assistance getting to and from work.

Blind workers can exclude any reasonable job expenses—even those that aren't related to blindness and those that also provide a benefit outside of employment—from countable income. These costs can include transportation, any kind of specialized assistance (such as a service animal), food eaten during the work day, and even taxes.

You can find a detailed list of IRWEs on Social Security's work incentives web page. The list is non-exhaustive, so if you have an expense that isn't listed here, it still might be deductible—but the cost of routine medical or dental care isn't an IRWE. You can ask a representative at your local Social Security field office about your options.

Subsidized Employment

If your employer pays you more than the reasonable value of your work because you're disabled, Social Security counts the extra amount as a subsidy. Subsidies aren't included when figuring your countable income.

Expedited Reinstatement of SSI Benefits

If you lose benefits because your wages put your income above the SSI income limit, your SSI payments will stop. But if you become unable to work again because of your medical condition, your benefits can be easily restarted—in some situations. Social Security will reinstate your SSI benefits without your having to apply again if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • Your benefits were stopped because your earned income, or the combination of earned and unearned income, was too high.
  • You aren't working at the SGA level during the month you apply for the reinstatement.
  • You can't work at the SGA level because of your disability.
  • Your current disability is the same as, or is related to, your original disabling condition.
  • You ask to be reinstated within five years from the month your SSI benefits were terminated.

For more information, see our article on getting your SSI reinstated after working too much.

Additional Information About Working While Disabled

Some people who are eligible for SSI disability benefits also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is based on your work history, not your current income and assets, but the payments are on average higher than those for SSI, so it's a good idea to apply for both if you think you might qualify.

Like SSI, SSDI has incentives that help disabled people get back into the workforce. The requirements are different, however, and sometimes more complex. You can familiarize yourself with these requirements by reading our article on working while receiving SSDI.

If you're working part-time and aren't sure whether you should apply for benefits yet, consider getting a consultation from an experienced disability attorney. A lawyer can advise you on your options and give you a sense of how successful your disability application will be. Disability lawyers work on contingency—meaning they don't get paid unless you win your case—and many offer free consultations for potential clients.

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