Understanding Social Security: SSDI

As you read in our last post about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security is a vital lifeline for everyday needs. Most people understand the basics of Social Security, but they run into issues when starting a new job. Today, we’ll explain Supplemental Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to help you understand what impact employment may have on your benefits.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for Title 2 (SSDI) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. SSDI is based off an individual’s work record. Through the Social Security tax or FICA tax, individuals pay into the program to be insured in case of disability. Under SSDI, a disabled person’s spouse and children are eligible to receive partial benefits payments. Unlike SSI, there are no asset limits and SSDI is not based on needs. However, there are income/activity limits for eligibility, referred to a substantial gainful activity (SGA). If a person is employed for 2014, the SGA countable income amount is $1,070 per month for non-blind individuals and $1,800 for people who are blind. If a person is self-employed, SGA is determined by the hours they worked. SGA is determined as anything above 80 hours.

Since SSDI is based on the work record of the individual, there is no set monthly amount determined by the Social Security Administration. For 2013, the average SSDI monthly payment was $1,177, while the highest payment was $2,533. In some circumstances, someone may qualify for SSDI but their monthly payment is below the SSI maximum federal benefits rate. In these circumstances, if the individual also qualifies for SSI, they can draw from both programs.

With income being the measure of whether or not someone receives the SSDI payment, many people are concerned about how much they earn while receiving SSDI. The program has many ways to ease that concern. First, when a person starts to work after receiving SSDI, they are given what is called a Trial Work Period (TWP). This is nine months over a five year rolling period when individuals can earn as much as they can over $750 (the 2014 amount) and still receive their entitlement. If they earn below this amount, the month does not count toward one of their nine months. For example, someone can earn $3,000 in one month and still receive their SSDI check during their Trial Working Period.

After their TWP ends, there are still ways for someone to reduce their countable income. These include Subsidy (support at work), Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE), Blind Workers Exclusion (BWE), and failed work attempts.

Useful Links for Understanding SSDI