How to Apply for Disability While Working

Artwork: Elizabeth D’Angelo

Important rules, regs, policies and ideas for folks who are applying for Social Security disability while working.



💠 You are eligible to start a disability application if you are earning under the monthly income limit. This income limit is called “substantial gainful activity”, and the amount changes every year. Here is where you can find a chart for how much substantial gainful activity is each year: About SGA

💠 If you are self-employed, they will consider the amount you received after business expenses, your net income. Make sure this is the number you write on any forms you fill out. They will also look at how your income is reported on your tax returns. If your income changes from month to month, they will consider the yearly average.

💠  If you co-own a business with someone, this can cause complications or problems.  Work with your accountant to make sure your taxes and paperwork are all accurately reflecting the amount you earned from working in the business. This is especially an issue for married couples.

💠 There are a few other basic criteria you need to meet to apply: How Do I Know if I am Eligible to Apply?


💠 If you are earning above SGA when you start your application, your application will be automatically denied.

💠 If you are under the limit when you apply, but then you go back to work and start earning over SGA, things get a lot more complicated. It may still be possible that you can receive some disability benefits under limited circumstances. Earning Over SGA While Applying For Disability


💠 If you are self-employed they will consider the amount of earnings after your business expenses. If your income is sporadic, in some cases they may consider a yearly average. Please take a look here for more info on Special Notes for People Who Are Self-Employed

💠 If you are earning money without performing actual work (for example: you co-own a business but do not do any work at the business) take a look here: Special Notes for Earning Income Without Working



💠 It is possible to get approved while working. But it some cases it may be more difficult or may take longer. Many disability lawyers recommend not working while applying, and some will not accept any clients who are working.

💠 If you have the right kind of medical records and a strong application it is possible to get approved and we have heard from readers who have done it. Including some readers who were approved quickly.


💠 It is very helpful to have strong support from your doctor. It will help if your doctor clearly writes that you are medically unable perform “substantial gainful activity” (work and earn more than SGA). It will also help if your doctor offers a detailed written explanation of how your symptoms prevent you from performing Substantial Gainful Activity. This can be written in your medical records and also on an RFC form.

💠 Most doctors do not know the social security regulations. Please share with your doctor the regs: Unable to sustain work at more than SGA. Some doctors think you must be unable to do any work at all, but this is not the Social Security policy.


💠 There are special forms or letters or documents you may be able to use from your workplace to help your case: How to Use Workplace Documents to Help Your Disability Case

💠 Here’s a few samples: Sample Employers Letters for Social Security Application

💠 Some people collect their Human Resources file and send this to Social Security. Particularly any requests for Reasonable Disability Accommodations that have been written or signed by their doctor: Sample Letter for Disability Accommodations


Disability Lawyer Sarah Dubinsky  was kind enough to share her experiences helping clients get approved while working. 

💠 “The more you earn, the less chance of getting approved. In working with clients, I have found that earning $700/month and working up to 10 hours per week is safe. Twenty hours per week is too much.”

💠 “Your local State Vocational Rehabilitation program may be able to provide you with free medical testing and vocational assessments. These can either help or hurt you get benefits. It is a mixed bag.”

💠 “Sheltered workshops can sometimes be excluded from the income limits.” (Sheltered workshops are special work settings that employ people with disabilities – sometimes below minimum wage).

💠 This is a form your current or past employer can fill out. It can be used to show that the value of your work is less than what you are getting paid: Subsidized-employment-form



💠 The amount of backpay you get is based on your onset date (the date Social Security decides you became disabled). They often choose the date you last worked, so if you are working the whole time you applied, it’s impossible to guess what day they might choose! You may get more or less backpay depending on the date.

💠 If you go back to work while applying and then stop again, there is a possibility Social Security will change your onset date to the last day of this new work attempt.

💠 If your onset date changes, this means you may get less backpay, but your future checks will not change. In some cases, working for just a few weeks could mean getting significantly less backpay.


💠 For SSDI, it’s difficult to answer this question. Your disability check can go up, because when you work you may be paying Social Security taxes, which will cause your disability check to raise. Or your check can stay the same. Or if Social Security changes your onset date when you get approved, sometimes this can make your future checks go up or down.

💠 For SSI, your disability check will be reduced if you have any kind of income, including work income. Your backpay check may also be reduced. How Will Income Affect My SSI Check?

💠 What’s the difference? How to Understand the Difference Between SSI and SSDI



💠 Some people go back to school while applying and pay their living expenses through financial aid and/or student loans.

💠 Here’s two stories of people who did this: Hibiscus Applies While in School and Poppy Applies While in School

💠 If you already have student loans and you are struggling to pay them: How to Escape Student Loans


🌷 Employer disability. This is often called Long Term Disability or Short Term Disability. It is offered by some employers as part of your benefits package. Learn more here: How to Protect Yourself if You Apply for LTD.  If you are not ready to apply now, but may some day, there are a few really important things you need to know: How to Keep from Getting Screwed if Your Employer Offers Disability Insurance.

🌷 Temporary state disability. Some states offer state disability for one year, often 60% of your former salary. Other states offer (usually very small) amounts of cash assistance while you apply for Social Security. Some states offer nothing. Find out more: How to Apply for State Cash Assistance & Emergency Assistance

🌷 Disability retirement. Some pension or retirement plans offer disability retirement. This is most common with teachers and some government employers, though it is sometimes possible with private employers. Check with your human resources department to learn more.

💠 Be careful. The people who work at Human Resources are hired to protect your employer, not you. Readers kind enough to share their stories to help others: Human Resources is Not Your Friend

🌷 Survival Strategies. How to Survive Financially While Applying for Disability


💠 Once you are already on disability, you are also allowed to work, but there are many factors to take into consideration. Here’s some more info on How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

Updated 2019. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please use one of these magic buttons to share this post on Facebook or Twitter:

4 thoughts on “How to Apply for Disability While Working”

  1. are there any attorneys in the New York area whom will help with a (how to get SSDI after your work credits expired) I was on SSDI an went back to work but with my schizophrenia I failed to hold the job. I reapplied but was told my work credits expired THANKS FOR YOUR TIME


  2. You do an amazing job with this blog. Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of patients. I love sharing your blogs on Hunter Hopkins Center’s page. Kudos to you!


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