Myth #2: I Will Lose My SSI/SSDI Benefits when I Start to Work

My friend told me that he lost his Social Security when he went to work and he was not earning enough money to pay his bills. I don’t want that to happen to me.It is common to be concerned that if you start working, you’ll lose your SSI and/or SSDI benefits and that you might not earn enough to pay for all your expenses.

Both SSI and SSDI have rules that allow you to try working without worrying about losing your benefits. Some of these rules are the same for both programs, but most of them are different for the 2 programs. If you have questions, you may want to talk to a Work Incentive Consultant.

Here are some basic guidelines about how each program is affected by working. For detailed information, click here to read Social Security’s Guide to Employment Supports, also called “the Red Book.”

SSI
  • SSI uses a Countable Income Calculation to figure out your cash benefits based on your monthly total countable income. Read DB101's SSI article for details on how this calculation works. Important: If you are on SSI benefits only, you will always have more money if you work.
  • If you are under age 22, on SSI, going to school, and working, you may be eligible for the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE). The SEIE allows you to earn up to $1,870 per month while going to school without having your SSI benefits lowered. Over the course of a year, you can make up to $7,550 without impacting your countable earned income calculation.
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are disability-related expenses you pay for out of your own pocket so that you can work. Some examples of IRWEs are transportation expenses, assistive technology, and specialized or modified office equipment, such as desks, phones, or computers. If they’re approved by Social Security, you can deduct your IRWEs when calculating your income. This will lower your total countable income, so that you can keep more of your SSI benefits. To be approved by Social Security, the expense must:
    • Be paid for by you
    • Relate to your disabling medical condition
    • Be necessary (without it, you would be unable to work)
  • If you get SSI benefits and have a specific work goal, you may be eligible for the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). This program allows you to save your earnings or unearned income (like SSDI) for expenses that are related to your work goal. While using a PASS, you will continue getting your SSI benefits to pay for living expenses. PASS funds have to be kept separate from your other money, and you have to keep records of your PASS expenses. To learn more, read the DB101 article on PASS or contact a PASS Cadre.
SSDI
  • If you are on SSDI, the Trial Work Period (TWP) allows you to try working while continuing to get your full SSDI benefits. Your Trial Work Period consists of nine Trial Work months within a 60-month (or five-year) period. This year if you earn more than $880 in a particular month, it counts as a Trial Work month. If you earn less than $880, it doesn’t. Either way, you keep getting your full SSDI benefits until you’ve used all nine Trial Work months within a 60-month (or five-year) period. For more information, read the DB101 section on SSDI and Work.
  • If you are on SSDI, you will also be eligible for an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). The EPE begins the first month after your Trial Work Period ends and will continue for the following 36 months (or three years). During this time, if you earn less than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,220 per month in 2019; $2,040 if you're blind), you will get your SSDI benefits that month. If you earn more than the SGA limit, you will not but you will still be in SSDI eligibility status. That means if earnings fall below SGA, your SSDI can simply be restarted. For more information on EPE, click here.
  • If you have any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs), Social Security allows you to deduct the value of those expenses from your gross earnings after your Trial Work Period. Deducting your IRWEs may allow you to keep your SSDI cash benefits, if it lowers your earnings below the SGA level. If you have questions about IRWEs, talk to a Work Incentive Consultant.
  • If you are on SSDI and have a specific work goal, you may want to look into the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program. This program allows you to save earned and unearned income (like SSDI) to pay for expenses related to your work goal. Note that you must be eligible, or become eligible, for SSI to qualify for a PASS. While using a PASS, you will continue to get your SSI benefits to pay for living expenses. To learn more, read the DB101 article on PASS or contact a PASS Cadre.