Myth #2: I Will Lose My SSI/SSDI Checks When I Start to Work

It is common to be concerned that if you start working you’ll lose your SSI and/or SSDI checks 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 benefit payments. Some of these rules are the same for both programs, but most of them are different. It is important to know if you are on SSI, SSDI, or both. If you are not sure, you may want to request a Benefits Planning Query (BPQY) from your local Social Security office. You can also Chat with a Hub expert or click here for more information.

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 only on SSI, you will always make more money by working.
  • 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 benefit reduced. You can exclude up to $7,550 over the course of a year.
  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) are disability-related expenses you pay for out-of-pocket so that you can work. Some examples are transportation expenses, assistive technology, and specialized or modified office equipment (desks, phones, or computers, for example). If they’re approved by Social Security, you can deduct your IRWEs when calculating your income. This will reduce your total countable income so that you can keep more of your SSI benefit. To be approved by Social Security, the expense must:
    • Be paid for by you
    • Relate to a serious medical condition
    • Be necessary (without it, you would be unable to work)
  • If you get SSI and have a specific work goal, you may be eligible for the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program. This program allows you to save your earnings or unearned income (like SSDI) for expenses related to your work goal. While using a PASS, you will continue to get your SSI check 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 DB101’s section 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 an SSDI payment. Your Trial Work Period consists of 9 Trial Work months within a 60-month 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 benefit until you’ve used all nine Trial Work months within a 60-month period. For more information, read DB101’s SSDI and Work page.
  • 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. 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 payment that month. If you earn more than SGA, 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 the Trial Work Period. Deducting your IRWEs may allow you to keep your SSDI cash benefit if it reduces your earnings below the SGA level. If you have questions about this, Chat with a Hub expert.
  • 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 check to pay for living expenses. To learn more, read DB101’s section on PASS or contact a PASS Cadre.