How Much Can I Earn While Collecting Social Security?

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) Income Limits

SSI provides benefits to low-income people who are either aged 65 or older, blind, or disabled. There is no work history requirement to receive SSI.

To collect SSI you must have BOTH low income AND low assets.

Asset limit for Social Security SSI 

To qualify for SSI, you must also have limited assets. Social Security requires SSI recipients to have:
Less than $2,000 in assets, for a single person,
Less than $3,000 in assets for a couple.

Earning (Income) Limit for Social Security SSI

The Social Security earnings limit for people age 65 and younger will increase from $15,720 in 2016 to $16,920 in 2017. Social Security beneficiaries who earn more than this amount will have $1 in benefits withheld for every $2 in earned income over the limit.

For those who will turn 66 in 2017 the earnings limit increases by $3,000 to $44,880, and the payment reduction declines to $1 withheld for every $3 earned in excess of the earnings limit.

Keep in mind, though, that not all income is “countable” for SSI purposes – and so in some cases you can earn more than $733 per month and still qualify for SSI. This is because way Social Security counts income is different than the way that most people usually think of income.

Countable income for SSI includes:

Any other kind of money you earn from working;
Unemployment compensation;
Social Security retirement;
Gifts from friends;
Any free food or shelter.

However, to try and encourage SSI recipients to work, Social Security will exclude part of your income from its calculations.

Income That Does NOT Count for collecting SSI:

Social Security does not count all income toward the SSI limit. Non-countable income includes:
• The first $20 of most kinds of income you receive in a month;
• The first $65 in earnings and one-half of all earnings over $65 in a month (Earned Income Exclusion);
• SNAP (food stamps);
• Tax refunds;
• Public benefits based on need;
• Any loans if you must repay them; and,
• Disabled students under 22 – $7,000 of annual income is not countable.

SSDI (Social Security Disability) Income Limits

SSD (Social Security Disability) is disability payments available to workers who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits. The more work credits you have, the greater your SSD benefits will be. However, there is a limit on the amount of money that you can earn through work when you receive Social Security Disability benefits. The reason behind this is simple: if you can earn an income, you aren’t considered disabled anymore.

However – unlike the SSI benefits for low income people – the SSDI program does NOT put any limit on the amount of assets or unearned income you have. Similarly, SSD does not look at your spouse’s income when determining your Social Security Disability benefits.

In other words, a disabled (non-blind) person applying for or receiving SSDI cannot earn more than $1,950 per month by working, but they can have any amount of income from investments, interest, or a spouse’s income.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Lawyers

If you can engage in what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), you won’t be eligible for SSD benefits.

Federal regulations use a figure called the “national average wage index” to determine the income limit for the SGA each year.
In 2015 these limits are:
$1,950 for disabled applicants;
$1,170 for blind applicants.

Note that the rules differ somewhat for business owners, since their monthly income may not accurately reflect the work effort they put into their business.

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