"Can I still apply for disability even though I'm working?"
That's a question we get asked a lot, and the short answer is "yes."
Or, more accurately, "yes, but..."
We've already talked about how the SSDI process can be a lengthy one. SSDI decisions can be rendered in as little as 30 days or the process can take up to two years before a decision is made. In the meantime, how do you keep money coming into the household budget? After all, you still need to eat, and you still need to meet your financial obligations.
A lot of people have the misconception that applying for SSDI means you can't be working, at all, while you're in the system to be considered for benefits. This simply isn't true. Even if you've applied for SSDI and are awaiting a decision, you are permitted to have an income during the process.
Working While You Wait
The guidelines for how much you are allowed to earn each month while applying for SSDI are set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA) - the current figure for 2015 is $1090 per month. While that may not be the amount you are accustomed to bringing into the household budget, it is the maximum you are allowed to earn and still be awarded SSDI.
How Many Hours?
The SSA will take your working hours into consideration when assessing your application for SSDI. If you are working a full 40-hour workweek, it's likely that will be seen as a reason to deny benefits. Part-time work is generally viewed in a more favorable light, particularly if you had been working a regular full time schedule before your disability occurred. The type of part time work you do matters, too, because if it is similar or related to your previous work, the SSA may conclude that you are capable of performing your job as before. Additionally, if you had only worked part time before your disability occurred, and the SSA finds that you can still perform this work, your claim will likely be denied.
It should be noted that there is no amount of work that will be ignored. The SSA will look closely at any work you perform, and working at all may raise questions about why you could not perform the same work for more hours.
Past Relevant Work and Substantial Gainful Activity
In considering a claim for disability, the SSA will determine if you can still perform"past relevant work" (PRW), which will include jobs that you have held in the past 15 years. They will also determine whether the work you are currently doing falls within guidelines for "substantial gainful activity" (SGA) - currently in excess of $1090 per month in 2015. It's important to note, however, that earnings in excess of $1090 per month may not necessarily trigger a denial of SSDI - if your earnings are the result of special conditions designed to assist you in the performance of your duties- an argument can be made that without these special conditions, your income would be much lower, placing you below the $1090 threshold for benefits. Moreover, if you try to return to work, but fail at the attempt (usually if it lasts less than three months), SSA will view these efforts as an "unsuccessful work attempt" which will not hurt your claim. In some circumstances, you can even work more than three months, and an argument can be made for a trial work period.
Additional income that stems from non-work sources-such as investments, interest income, or monetary gifts - do not factor into the SGA threshold of $1090 per month, and will not be counted against you in your claim.
Assessing Your Ability to Work
If you continue to work after you have applied for SSDI - and many people do - be aware that the work that you do will be examined to determine if you are eligible for benefits. You must be able to demonstrate that you can no longer work in the same capacity as you did before your disability began. There is a myth that you must quit working for 12 months before you can apply for disability, but in reality, most people cannot make ends meet without some income in a 12-month period. Instead, if your disability has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or more, you may be eligible for SSDI; if you aren't sure about the timing of your application, talking with an attorney experienced in SSDI cases will help to determine your course of action.
Need help applying for SSDI? Call the Gerling Firm - it won't cost you anything to see if we can help!