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What Does Substantial Gainful Activity Mean?

substantial gainful activity

If you are in the process of applying for disability benefits, you’ve likely come across the term “substantial gainful activity.” Those who are familiar with the SSA and the SSDI application process know this term well, but if this is your first experience with disability benefits, you may be confused.

Learn more about what SGA is, how to know if you are participating in substantial gainful activity, and how it may affect your disability application. For more personalized assistance with your application, call The Dansby Law Firm at 334-326-6449.

Breaking Down the Term Substantial Gainful Activity

The Social Security Administration limits benefits for those who are engaged in substantial gainful activity. Basically, this term is used to refer to work that proves that you are productive enough not to need SSDI benefits. Work is defined as substantial if it demands physical work, mental work, or both from the person doing it. Work is considered gainful if it fits into one of these categories:

  • Earns pay or profit.
  • Is generally done for pay or profit.
  • Is intended for profit, regardless of whether or not the worker actually profits from it.

How to Know If Your Work is Substantial and Gainful

This may seem fairly straightforward on the outside—if you’re working and earning a substantial amount of income, you may be unable to receive SSDI benefits. But it’s a bit more complex than that. Since the definition of SGA includes activity that is generally done for profit or is intended for profit, which includes several activities outside of normal work.

For example, someone who volunteers in a position that is generally paid in other organizations may be considered to be engaged in substantial gainful activity. Someone with a profitable hobby that creates products to sell may be engaged in SGA, whether or not they actually sell anything.

However, the main way the SSA determines that someone is doing substantial gainful activity is by looking at their income. Each year, the SSA sets a monthly. Income limit. Anyone earning that amount or more is considered to be engaged in SGA.

Income Amounts

Income amounts vary for blind and non-blind disability applicants. In 2023, blind applicants or recipients earning at least $2,460 per month are engaged in substantial gainful activity. The monthly cutoff is $1,470 for non-blind applicants and recipients.

What If You Want to Return to Work?

This is discouraging to some applicants and disability recipients. If the goal is eventually to get by without disability payments, setting such a low monthly income limit may appear to detract people from getting back to work. The Social Security Administration has addressed those concerns with a trial work period.

Someone receiving SSDI can test their ability to work for at least nine months in a 60-month period. During this time, they are still considered disabled and receive their disability benefits. This allows someone to discover whether or not they can return to work without putting their benefits at risk.

When you hit the monthly income limit for a given month, that month is considered a month of service and counts toward your nine months. In 2023, the monthly limit is $1,050. After reaching that amount for nine months in a 60-month period, the applicant can begin working and terminate their benefits if they are able to return to work.

Unsure About Your Work?

Perhaps you do some occasional part-time work, freelancing, or other gig work just to get by, but you’re unable to engage in ongoing work that allows you to provide for yourself. If you’re unsure about whether or not your occasional work allows you to apply for SSDI benefits, this is a good time to talk to an attorney. A disability benefits attorney can look at your situation and help you better understand your options.

Reach Out to The Dansby Law Firm Now

If you’re ready to get more help with your SSDI application or find out if you qualify, it’s time to talk to The Dansby Law Firm. We focus exclusively on disability cases, so we have the knowledge and experience you need. Schedule a meeting with our team now by calling us at 334-326-6449 or sending us a message online.

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