Earnings Used to Calculate Disability

Your income affects the size of your disability benefits.

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If you become disabled, your earnings affect the type and amount of benefits you’ll receive from the Social Security Administration. You must have earned enough money over a period of years to receive Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, benefits. Your current income can limit the amount you’ll receive from SSDI or from Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

SSDI Prior Earnings

As of 2013, your earnings create SSDI work credits at the rate of one for each $1,160 of wages or self-employment income. You can earn up to four credits per year. If you become disabled before age 24, you’ll need six credits earned over the previous three years to qualify for SSDI. In the age range of 24 to 31, subtract 21 from your age and divide by two. For example, if you’re 27, subtract 21, giving you six years. You must have earned full work credits in half of these years. In this case, that’s four credits for each of three years out of the last six years, for a total of 12 work credits. At 31 and older, your required credits over a 10-year period range from 20 to 40, depending on your age when you become disabled.

SSDI Current Earnings

A "trial work month" is one in which you earn $750 or more, after deducting work expenses. Your earnings are unlimited during nine trial work months within a 60-month period beginning when you first receive SSDI payments. After this period, you enter a three-year span in which your current income must not exceed an average of $1,040 per month or the SSA will suspend your payments. The cap is $1,740 per month if you are blind. If your physical condition improves, the SSA will stop payments, whatever your income. You can deduct work expenses related to your disability, including the cost of prescription drugs, transportation, a personal attendant, transportation, a wheelchair and other special equipment.

SSI Earnings

As of 2013, you can receive up to $710 a month through SSI if you don’t have enough work credits for SSDI. You can earn $65 a month before the SSA begins cutting benefits; you lose 50 cents of benefits for each dollar of countable earnings above $65 a month. The SSA doesn't count certain sources of income, including food stamps, income tax refunds, home energy assistance, state and local government benefits, educational grants and scholarships, food and shelter provided by non-profit agencies, loans and money spent by others to pay your bills. If you're a student, you can earn up $6,960 for the year.

SSI Earning Deductions

You can deduct work-related expenses from your income before SSI determines your monthly benefit. You can also deduct certain costs from your resources if you submit a Plan to Achieve Self-Support, or PASS. This document lays out your plan to return to work. It includes the type of job you want, the steps you’ll take to get it, the money you’ll spend on the plan and a timetable. Normally, you can’t receive SSI if you have more than $2,000 in resources, such as savings accounts or individual retirement accounts. The money you plan to spend on your PASS reduces your counted resources or earnings.