Social security is defined as a federal program that provides benefits to retired people and those who are unemployed or disabled. That seems like a relatively straight forward idea, but oftentimes it is anything but simple. Social security benefit can be split into two major categories: SSDI and SSI.

What is Social Security?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is classified as a benefit paid to you or your dependents when you are entitled to the program, meaning you have worked for a required length of time (typically 10 years minimum), are classified as disabled and have paid into the program in the form of social security taxes. Supplemental Security Interest (SSI) pays you based upon your financial need. To qualify for these programs, you need to meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of “disabled.”

Disability, as defined by the agency for the purposes of SSDI benefit, is defined as the following:

  1. You are unable to do the same, or similar, work as you were doing before.
  2. The SSA determines that you can’t learn and/or adjust to a new field of work.
  1. Your injury or disability is long term; that means that it has, or is projected to, last more than one year or result in death.

Qualifying for Your SSDI Benefit

If you are determined by the Social Security Administration to meet the intent and qualify for the SSDI benefit program, you cannot be working in any “substantial gainful activity.” For most Americans, this is defined as any work pursuit where you make $1,130 per month or more. This number is flexible once you have qualified for SSDI, but when applying you cannot make more than this amount.

The amount of benefit you can collect each month will depend upon the amount of money you earned prior to becoming disabled, how long since you have been able to work and how long your working life was. The average SSDI benefit earned in 2016 is $1,166 per month, but for qualifiers with a higher recent income, the benefit could be up to $2,639 per month.

Working and Collecting Your SSDI Benefits

If you have qualified for the SSDI benefit program, you are able to work, within a set of guidelines. The Social Security Administration does have a provision allowing for a trial work period. During a trial work period, you have up to nine months of working in a new or similar field where you are working, earning $810 or more per month.

In the five years following your trial work period, you are automatically qualified for the program if you stop working, meaning you can collect benefits without reapplying. Any time in the three years (36 months) after the end of your trial work period where you earn less than your established SSDI benefit, you can apply to collect SSDI benefit to compensate for this shortfall.

While you are working, the amount of money you earn will reduce the amount of benefit you collect. This calculation can be simplified in order to determine a ballpark figure. The first $85 you earn in a month from working will not be counted. Anything above and beyond that baseline will be subtracted, fifty cents for every dollar, from your benefit collected. An example is shown below:

$1,130 (the maximum amount you can earn and collect benefit) minus $85 (not counted baseline earned income) equals $1,045. Of the remaining earned income, calculate 50 cents for every dollar: $1,045 / 2 = $522.50. The SSA will subtract $522.50 from your calculated money benefit.

For many of us, it is not just the paycheck that is earned when working. If you collect SSDI benefits, but miss the sense of purpose and accomplishment working provides, and are able to find a job which you can safely perform, don’t be deterred from pursuing it. The SSDI benefit program allows you to work within set guidelines while collecting your benefits. Contact your local and professional attorney today to learn more.