What Substantial Gainful Activity Means for Disability Claims

Important: We updated this article in February 2023 with the must current information from the SSA. One thing the Social Security Administration looks at when you apply for disability benefits is this question: Are you unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (SGA)? In regular English, that means: Can you still work and earn enough money to support yourself?

For those who apply for disability benefits, the answer must be “no.”

But things start to get a bit harder to understand when we think about working less than 40 hours per week. For example, if you work part time, does that count as substantial gainful activity? Is working weekends only a problem for getting benefits? What if you volunteer? The short answer is it all comes down to how much you earn from your job(s) in a month.

What Exactly Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The Internal Revenue Service defines substantial gainful activity as performing significant duties over a reasonable time period while working for pay or profit.

What Is the Maximum Substantial Gainful Activity Amount?

Working part time means you the SSA will likely deny you benefits. For you to qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), you cannot earn more than $1,470 per month. This is the same SGA income limit you must meet order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income. The SSA also counts “passive income” toward your max SGA if it’s over the monthly income limit for 2023.

The Nature of Your Disability Matters

A person who earns more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is usually considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as substantial gainful activity depends on what type of condition(s) you have. For example, the Social Security Act lists a higher SGA amount for blind people who apply for benefits. In 2023, blind people can earn up to $2,460 per month and still qualify for disability benefits. SGA for the blind does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. However, the SGA limit for non-blind claimants applies to SSDI and SSI benefits.

Both substantial gainful activity amounts change every year along with updates in the national average wage index.

SSI versus SSDI

To be eligible for SSI, you must meet all the following conditions:

  • Little or no monthly income and few, if any, financial resources or assets.
  • Have a doctor diagnose you with something that meets the SSA’s definition of disability.
  • Either not work at all, or earning less than the substantial gainful activity level in job wages.

To qualify for SSDI, you must must:

  • Have worked full time and paid Social Security taxes for 5 in the last 10 years (i.e., earned 40 Social Security work credits).
  • Either not be currently working, or earning less than the substantial gainful activity level from your job wages.
  • Have a physical or mental condition that makes you unable to work at least 12 months in a row, or is expected to result in your death.

Trial Work Period and Substantial Gainful Activity Limits

After you become eligible for disability benefits, you may attempt to start working again if your health improves. This is an option all people on SSDI and SSI payments can try through the SSA’s Ticket to Work program. As an incentive, the SSA provides a trial work period when you can earn money working and still collect benefits. After nine months, though, the SSA will suspend your benefits if you earn too much money. For 2023, the substantial gainful activity limit for those in the Ticket to Work program is $1,050 per month.

If you’re not sure whether your current income is enough to stop you from getting benefits, ask a lawyer for free.

Reach out today to talk about your circumstances with an experienced disability attorney or advocate. Ensure you receive the benefits you need and deserve! Having a lawyer file your claim makes you 3x more likely to get SSD benefits within 6 months.

In fact, those who qualify for legal assistance through our website usually get $13,000+ in back pay as well as monthly benefits. People who apply on their own without expert help usually wait at least 18-24 months. Unfortunately, the SSA awards benefits to less than 1 in 3 people who apply. That’s why a disability lawyer makes such a huge difference. Even better, you’ll pay $0 for legal assistance unless the SSA awards you benefits. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to sign up for a free phone call during regular weekday business hours from a local SSD expert:

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Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.