There are millions of people who receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. These payments go to people who are unable to hold regular employment due to a health condition. It is a lifesaver for those who need to survive. But it can be far too little as well.

As of right now, the average monthly payment for disability payments is $1,171. The amount you get depends on several factors, but largely on how much you’ve put into the Social Security system before your injury. If you want to see how much you qualify for you can check a Social Security disability benefits pay chart.

But can you earn extra income while receiving disability payments? The answer is complicated, but in general, you can up to a certain limit. Let’s take a look at the rules.

Unearned Income

If you have investments, are earning interest from something, or you have a spouse’s income assisting you, these do not count against your disability payments. These are considered unearned income. Thus, the government can’t force you to drain your 401k before you can get on disability.

Substantial Gainful Activity

If you earn more than $1,180, or $1,970 if you’re blind, through “substantial gainful activity”, or SGA, your benefits will be removed. These are the thresholds to get their attention, but there are cases where earning over this amount won’t be counted as SGA. However, you’d have to argue that to the Social Security Administration. For example, if you receive substantial help from your employer or from others such that you could do more work, but wouldn’t have been able to do so under your current condition, it might not count. But this is a risky game to play.

Owning A Business

If you’re a small business owner, it gets even more tricky. A small business can earn far more than the limit. If your business passes three tests, then your benefits could be taken away. The tests are:

  • Do you provide “significant” services and receive “substantial” income from your work?
  • Is the work you provide comparable to non-disabled people in the same industry?
  • Does your activity earn more than $1,180/month or save your business a similar amount by not hiring an employee to do the work?

If you’re considering opening a small business and you are disabled, you may wish to speak with a disability lawyer for advice before you earn money.

Trial Work Periods

Another wrinkle is Trial Work Periods (TWP). If you believe that your disability has improved to the point you could work, you can talk with the SSA about entering a TWP. This lets you attempt to secure and maintain a job while receiving benefits. There are strict time limits for TWPs and income guidelines, but for those who want to return to work and earn more than the limit then this is the program to do it.