We recently received several questions from readers asking about income limits for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. It’s true the Social Security Administration (SSA) sets a maximum monthly income limit for people applying for disability benefits. Earn more than this amount, and they’ll automatically deny your claim. But they don’t count all incomes equally — learn which ones may apply to your specific situation below.
Monthly Income Limits Apply to Married or Single SSD Claimants
Anyone who earns more than $1,310 per month in 2021 cannot qualify for SSD benefits. But what does the SSA mean when they use the word “earn,” exactly? In general, they mean that if you’re still working and earning a paycheck. What if you’re working part-time, “gig economy” jobs (such as Uber or Lyft drivers) or only take seasonal jobs? If you apply for disability benefits while working, the SSA may automatically deny your claim.
Next, let’s look at how this income limit rule applies to married couples. If you’re applying for SSD benefits, will your husband or wife’s paycheck count towards your own income limit? No, your spouse’s monthly income cannot disqualify you for SSD benefits. However, there is one caveat: You may owe taxes on your benefits if you file a joint return. This rule only applies when you and your spouse’s combined incomes add up to more than $32,000 annually. For example: You get $14,400 in SSD benefits this year and your spouse’s annual salary is $20,000. In this case, you will owe taxes on your benefits the next year.
Okay, but what if you decide to file separate tax returns next year to avoid paying the IRS? Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to work in your favor. Trying to avoid paying taxes on your benefits is a good way to get audited by the IRS. What if you live together, but aren’t legally married and file taxes individually? In that case, if your SSD benefits total more than $25,000 per year, you must pay income taxes on them.
How Payments From Other Sources Might Affect SSD Applicants
What about people who don’t work, but have other income? Examples might include alimony or child support, VA disability compensation, etc. Parents, please read our child support article to see how it may affect your application. Otherwise, see our answers below:
- I’m a veteran who gets a disability check each month from the Army. If approved, will that money reduce my SSD benefit amount? No, VA disability pay won’t reduce your SSD payments or hurt your approval chances. But if you apply for SSI (Supplemental Security Income), your VA benefits will count against you. If your VA benefits are more than $1,310/month, you won’t qualify for SSI. This is because SSI is a needs-based program that only pays benefits to the poorest eligible claimants. While the SSA manages the SSI program, those payments don’t come out of the Social Security Trust Fund.
- Can I file for SSD if I currently receive widow’s benefits from Social Security? Yes, you can! However, there are a few things to know before you apply. If approved, the SSA will compare your widow’s and SSD benefit amounts. Then, they’ll pay you whichever benefit amount is higher – but not both. For example: Let’s say you currently get $1,000/month in widow’s benefits. However, you also qualify for $1,500 in SSD benefits. The SSA then pays you $1,500 in benefits going forward, because you cannot receive $2,500 in combined payments. Once you reach normal retirement age (i.e., 66 or 67), your benefits automatically convert into regular Social Security.
- I retired early for health reasons. Can I get SSD benefits if I’m drawing early retirement? No, it’s illegal to draw early retirement and SSD benefits on the same work record.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
You’re 2x more likely to get approved for SSD benefits right away if a Social Security attorney files your claim. Think you can’t afford a lawyer to help you? Disability attorneys work on contingency, so you owe $0 for legal assistance if you don’t win benefits. And if you do win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Most people who qualify for legal assistance through our website receive $10,000 in lump-sum backpay as well as monthly benefits. Those who apply on their own without legal assistance typically wait 18-24 months to receive their first SSD payment. However, the SSA usually denies them benefits the first time. These applicants usually only win benefits on appeal after pleading their case before a judge several months or years later.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!