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.

Many people worry that if they start working, they’ll lose their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and might not earn enough to pay for all their expenses.

However, both SSI and SSDI have rules that allow you to try working without worrying about losing your benefits. If you have questions, talk to a Benefits Planner.

Do you get SSI, SSDI, or both?

Make sure you know which benefits you get. Social Security has two disability benefits programs with very similar names:

Some people qualify for both programs at the same time. If you get benefits from Social Security, but aren't sure which ones you get, order a free Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

SSI Rules That Support Work

When SSI figures out how much to give you in benefits, the program counts your income using a special countable income calculation. This calculation counts less than half of your earned income. That means that if you get SSI benefits and start working, the combined amount you get from work and SSI is always higher than your SSI benefits alone. Example: If you get a job where you make $400 per month and you don't have any other income, your SSI benefits only goes down by $157.50.

If you are under age 22, get SSI, go to school, and work, the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) may let you earn up to $1,870 per month without making your SSI benefits go down. For a year, the SEIE lets you make up to $7,550 without affecting your benefits. Tip: The SEIE is designed to let you earn more during school vacations.

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 costs, assistive technology, and special or modified office equipment, such as desks, phones, or computers. If Social Security approves them, you can deduct your IRWEs when calculating your income. This lowers your total countable income, so that you can keep more of your SSI benefits.

If you get SSI benefits and have a specific work goal, you may qualify for a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). A PASS can let you save money from your earnings to pay for expenses related to your work goal. SSI does not count the money you put into a PASS as income or resources. That means you might even get more in SSI benefits. To learn more, read the DB101 article about Building Your Assets and Wealth or contact a PASS specialist.

For more information about working while you get SSI benefits, read Social Security's article on SSI Work Benefits and DB101's SSI article.

Watch this video to understand what to expect with your SSI when you go to work:

SSDI Rules That Support Work

If you get SSDI, the Trial Work Period (TWP) lets you try working while you keep getting your full SSDI benefits. During your Trial Work Period, you can work for nine Trial Work months in a 60-month (five-year) period. Any month where you earn more than $880 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.

If you use up all nine Trial Work months, your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins. The EPE lasts for 36 months (3 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 get SSDI benefits that month. If you earn more than the SGA limit, you don't.

If you have any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs), Social Security lets you deduct the value of those expenses from your gross earnings during your EPE (but not during your Trial Work Period). If deducting your IRWEs causes your earnings to go below the SGA level, you might be able to keep getting SSDI benefits.

For more information about working while you get SSDI, read Social Security’s Guide to Employment Supports and DB101's SSDI article.

Watch this video to understand how SSDI's rules can help you when you go back to work: