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Can I earn money while collecting disability benefits?

The simple answer to this question is yes, but the details can be very complicated.

Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are meant to provide a source of income for people who are unable to work because of injury, illness or other condition. However, this does not mean the applicant can have absolutely no other source of income.

Under the Social Security Administration's rules, a person can be eligible for disability benefits only if they are unable to engage in "substantial gainful activity," sometimes referred to as SGA. The agency looks at a number of factors to determine whether an applicant's work and earnings qualify as SGA.

First, the activity is "substantial" if it requires significant physical and/or mental activities. Next, the activity is "gainful" if: it is performed for pay or profit; if it's work of the kind that generally is performed for pay or profit; or if it is work that is intended for profit, regardless of whether a profit was actually realized.

Essentially, what this means is that if an applicant is able to work and earn more than a certain specified amount of money, then the agency considers them as not disabled enough to qualify for the benefits. The agency adjusts this threshold regularly to reflect changes in the cost of living into account, and in some cases the amount may vary according to the applicant's exact medical condition.

Note that if the applicant is collecting money through means other than SGA, it does not necessarily disqualify them for disability benefits. For instance, money from a personal injury settlement does not count as SGA, so it doesn't disqualify the disabled person. However, the Social Security Administration may adjust the amount of money the person receives if they are also receiving benefits through another government program.

The rules for Social Security Disability can be complicated and the bureaucracy difficult to navigate. An attorney can help you understand your options and guide you through the process.

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