Social Security has notoriously strict rules for qualifying to receive disability benefits, with many cases initially resulting in denial. It requires you to demonstrate, including through medical records, that you have an extraordinary limit regarding your earning potential. 

However, this does not mean you cannot work at all. Social Security provides some leeway through what it calls “substantial gainful activity.” 

What is substantial gainful activity? 

SGA is a monthly earnings threshold that Social Security imposes for determining eligibility to receive Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. Each year, Social Security calculates whether to change these figures. Social Security calls this recalculation a “Cost of Living Adjustment,” or COLA. 

If you wonder what your SGA is, or will be, this depends on whether you are blind or not. Based on the COLA for 2020, a nonblind SSDI recipient has a threshold of $1,260, whereas it increases to $2,110 if a person is blind. However, this distinction does not apply to SSI. Whether blindness is a factor in their disability cases or not, all SSI recipients are subject to the same threshold as nonblind SSDI recipients: $1,260. 

What if you exceed your SGA limit? 

Social Security will not automatically disqualify you from receiving benefits if you exceed your SGA threshold in a given month. Instead, Social Security provides a trial work period, averaging your earnings over a period of time to determine continued eligibility. The trial work period allows you the opportunity to test and assess your ability to support yourself, while not losing stability if employment does not work out. 

Social Security counts months in which you earned over $910 toward your trial work period, and like with the SGA, Social Security reevaluates this threshold yearly. If you do exceed $910 during nine months out of a 60-month window, Social Security will review and average your earnings for that period. If that average meets or exceeds your SGA limit, only then would your benefits cease.