"Can I apply for Social Security disability benefits while I am working?" This is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. Because the application process can be lengthy, I encourage new clients to file as soon as possible. In some cases, you may be able to file an application for benefits while you are working - but when?
To answer this question, let's start by looking at what the Social Security Administration refers to as "Substantial Gainful Activity." To be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you must be found to be unable to work at Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") level. In fact, this is the first question that the Social Security Administration will look at when you file your application for benefits - even before your medical evidence is reviewed. "Substantial Gainful Activity" describes your level of work activity and your earnings. "Substantial" means that you are working in a job that requires you to perform significant physical or mental activities. "Gainful" means that you are being paid for the work that you are doing or that it is work that you would normally be paid for doing.
Now that we have looked at what "Substantial Gainful Activity" means - how can it impact your application for benefits? When you file your application for benefits, the Social Security Administration asks you if you are working and how much you are earning. You cannot earn more than a specific dollar amount each month ("SGA") and be eligible for benefits. For 2014, you cannot earn more than $1,070.00 per month ("SGA level") or $1,800.00 if you are blind. If you are not blind and you are earning more than $1,070.00 per month, you are earning above SGA level and the Social Security Administration will find that you are not disabled. If you are submitting an application for benefits, your application will be denied for non-medical reasons and your medical evidence will not be reviewed. If you are already receiving benefits, the SGA requirement still applies to you - you can earn up to $1,070.00 per month (if you are not blind) and you will not lose your benefits.