Disability Question: Do I Have to Quit My Job to Apply for Disability?

by Shay Fleming   ·  5 days ago  
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Navigating the complexities of applying for disability benefits while still employed can be challenging. A reader asked, “Do I have to quit my job to apply for disability?” She isn’t alone in her questioning, as eligibility for disability benefits can be dependent on your work history and ability to work.

Understanding how your employment status affects your application is crucial. Applying for SSD doesn’t necessarily require you to quit your job, but there are specific rules about how much you can earn while applying or receiving benefits. Knowing these guidelines can help you make informed decisions without the pressure of immediately leaving your job. By understanding your options, you can apply for disability without unnecessarily risking your financial stability.

Should I Quit My Job if I’m Applying for Disability? 2 Questions to Ask

Deciding whether to quit your job while applying for disability benefits can be a tough choice. Unemployment can fast-track your benefits, but the loss of income can jeopardize your financial stability in the interim. It’s essential to evaluate your work history and current earnings to determine your eligibility. By considering these critical factors, you can make an informed decision without jeopardizing your financial stability.

Question 1: Do You Have Sufficient, Recent Work History and Social Security Work Credits?

To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you must have earned enough work credits through your employment. These credits are based on your age and the number of years you’ve worked in jobs covered by Social Security. Generally, you need to have worked at least five of the last ten years in a job where you paid Social Security taxes. This ensures that you’ve contributed to the system and are eligible for benefits. If you’re unsure about your work credit status, a Social Security disability lawyer can help you determine if you meet these requirements and advise on the best course of action.

If you worked full-time for 5 of the last 10 years in jobs while paying FICA (or Social Security) payroll taxes, you will have fulfilled the work credit requirement for SSDI.

If you didn’t, you may still be eligible, depending on your age and income history. Generally, you need to earn 40 work credits to qualify (20 within the last 10 years). However, younger workers have more lenient work credit requirements. (Learn more in the SSA’s Social Security work credits brochure.)

Question 2: Are You Still Engaging In “Substantial Gainful Activity” When You Apply?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the concept of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) to evaluate if you’re eligible for disability benefits. For 2024, earning more than $1,550 per month ($2,590 if you are blind) typically disqualifies you from receiving SSDI. This threshold indicates that you are capable of substantial work despite your disability. When considering applying for disability, it’s important to assess whether your current earnings exceed this limit. Staying under the SGA limit does not necessarily mean you have to quit your job; reducing hours or adjusting your role to fit within these parameters might be sufficient.

So, to answer your question: “Do I need to quit my job before applying for disability?” It depends. While you’re allowed to work a job so long as you aren’t earning more than $1,550 per month, it may call into question whether you’re truly too disabled to work. The same goes for part time work and volunteering.

Can You Get Disability While Holding a Job?

Applying for disability benefits doesn’t always mean you have to stop working entirely. The rules vary depending on the type of disability benefits you seek and how much you earn. Understanding how you can maintain employment while receiving disability can help you balance both your financial and health needs.

Working While on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI benefits are designed for individuals who have paid into the Social Security system through their previous jobs. You can still work and receive SSDI as long as your earnings do not exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold. For 2024, this amount is $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,590 for those who are blind. The SSA also offers a “trial work period” that allows you to test your ability to work for up to nine months without losing your benefits, regardless of how much you earn during this period. This can help you determine if you can sustain employment long-term while managing your disability.

Working While on Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI benefits are available for individuals with limited income and resources, regardless of their work history. While receiving SSI, you are allowed to work, but your earnings must remain low. The Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) sets the maximum monthly amount you can receive, which is $943 for individuals and $1,415 for couples in 2024. Not all of your wages count against this limit, and certain work-related expenses may be excluded. However, any money you earn will cause your monthly payments to be lower. This means you can earn more than these amounts without necessarily losing your benefits, provided you understand and navigate the income guidelines effectively.

What Are the Work Requirements for Disability Benefits?

To qualify for disability benefits, you need to meet specific criteria related to your work history and earnings. These requirements help the Social Security Administration (SSA) determine your eligibility based on your contributions to the system and your current financial need.

Work Credit Requirements

For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), eligibility is tied to your work history and the number of work credits you’ve earned. These credits are accumulated by paying Social Security taxes through employment. The number of credits you need depends on your age and how recently you’ve worked. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you became disabled. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. Checking your work credits is crucial, as insufficient credits can disqualify you from SSDI benefits.

Income Limits

Income limits play a critical role in determining your eligibility for both SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For SSDI, you must not earn more than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold, set at $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,590 for blind individuals in 2024. This limit ensures that your earnings don’t exceed what is considered manageable for someone with a disability. SSI has different criteria; it focuses on both income and resources. For 2024, the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) is $943 per month for individuals and $1,415 for couples. Only a portion of your income may count toward this limit, as certain exclusions apply, such as the first $20 of most income received each month.

Exceptions to These Requirements

There are several exceptions to the general rules for SSDI and SSI. For example, individuals who are blind have a higher SGA limit of $2,590 per month. Additionally, children with disabilities, adults disabled since childhood, and certain family members might qualify for benefits under specific circumstances. Expenses related to your disability, like specialized equipment or therapy, can also be deducted from your income, potentially keeping you below the SGA threshold. Understanding these exceptions can help you better navigate the application process and ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for the benefits you seek.

When Can Work Affect Your SSD Eligibility?

Work can impact your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in various ways, especially if your earnings exceed certain limits. It’s crucial to understand how your work status and income can influence your ability to receive disability benefits.

If you are working and your earnings exceed the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold, the SSA may determine that you are capable of substantial work and deny your claim. For 2024, the SGA limit is $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,590 for those who are blind. Even if your wages are low, the SSA will assess the type of work you do to ensure it aligns with their criteria for disability. For example, if you hold a volunteer position that involves significant physical or mental activity, it might suggest to the SSA that you can perform substantial work.

Additionally, how you report your earnings and the timing of your work can affect your SSD eligibility. If you had to stop working after a short period due to your disability, this might be considered an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA), which can strengthen your claim. Conversely, if you quit for reasons unrelated to your disability, such as layoffs or job dissatisfaction, this might undermine your application. It’s essential to document your work history accurately and provide evidence that your inability to work is due to your medical condition.

Can I Get Disability If I Quit My Job?

Quitting your job can be a significant decision, especially when considering applying for disability benefits. Understanding how your employment status affects your eligibility is crucial for navigating the application process and ensuring you meet the necessary criteria for receiving benefits.

If I Leave My Job, When Can I Claim Benefits?

You do not need to wait for a specific period after quitting your job to apply for disability benefits. The SSA requires that your disability prevents you from performing substantial work for at least 12 months or is expected to result in death. This duration requirement considers both the time you’ve been unable to work and the anticipated future impact of your condition. It’s important to provide thorough medical documentation to support your claim that your disability is the reason for your inability to work, rather than unrelated factors such as job layoffs or personal preferences.

Can I Get Unemployment and Disability?

Applying for both unemployment and disability benefits can complicate your situation. Unemployment benefits are intended for individuals who are actively seeking work and capable of performing it, while disability benefits are for those unable to work due to a medical condition. Receiving unemployment suggests to the SSA that you are ready and able to work, which conflicts with the premise of a disability claim. Although it’s not prohibited to receive both, doing so may make it harder to convince the SSA that you are truly unable to work, potentially affecting the success of your disability application.

How Long Does SSD Approval Take After I Quit My Job?

The SSD approval process can take several months, often ranging from three to six months for an initial decision. Factors such as the complexity of your medical condition, the thoroughness of your application, and the need for additional information can influence the timeframe. Preparing a detailed and well-supported application can help expedite the process.

Can I Go Back to Work After Getting Disability?

Yes, programs like Ticket to Work allow SSDI recipients to return to work while testing their ability to maintain employment. This initiative lets beneficiaries work for up to nine months without losing their benefits, giving them a safe way to explore employment opportunities while still receiving financial support from the Social Security Administration.

What If I Tried to Work Full-Time But Had to Stop?

If you worked full-time for less than six months but had to quit because of your disability, the SSA might consider this an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA). This shows that despite your efforts, your medical condition prevents you from sustaining employment, which can support your claim for disability benefits.

Can I Work Part-Time and Apply for Disability?

Balancing part-time work while applying for disability benefits can be a viable option. Understanding how your earnings and work hours affect your application can help you manage both your health and financial needs without jeopardizing your eligibility for benefits.

Working part-time while applying for disability benefits is permissible as long as your earnings stay below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold. For 2024, this means earning less than $1,550 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,590 for those who are blind. The SSA considers both your income and the nature of your work. For instance, if your part-time job is physically or mentally demanding, they may question why you can’t increase your hours or why the work is not considered substantial. You’ll need to explain why your medical condition limits your ability to perform more than part-time work, despite being able to manage a few hours each week.

It’s important to provide detailed documentation and possibly statements from your employer that outline the limitations and accommodations required for you to perform your job. This can help demonstrate to the SSA that, although you can work part-time, your disability prevents you from maintaining full-time employment. By staying under the SGA limit and clearly explaining your work restrictions, you can strengthen your application for disability benefits while continuing to earn an income through part-time work.

Can I Get Disability If I’ve Never Worked?

You can receive disability benefits without a work history through Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs-based program for individuals with limited income and resources. For 2024, to qualify, your countable resources must be below $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples. Unlike SSDI, which requires work credits, SSI is available even if you have never worked. This program ensures support for those with significant financial need and a qualifying disability, regardless of their employment history.

How Do I Pay My Bills if I’m Not Working?

Many people are in your same situation. They want to quit working, but have no way to pay their bills. To qualify for SSD, you must prove your health problems force you to stop working for at least 12 months. If you can work part-time or light duty, that can hurt your approval chances. In fact, it says so directly on the SSA’s website. “If you are not working, we will send your application to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office that will make the decision about your medical condition.” In other words, if you’re working, why should they move onto the medical screening step of your claim review? People who aren’t working will skip ahead of you in line, and that line is very, very long right now. In 2022, the SSA approved a little more than 65,000 disability claims every month, on average.

Some people wait up to two years for the SSA to finish reviewing their claims. It sounds like you can’t go very long with no income, but quitting your job is key for faster approval.

Managing finances without a steady income can be daunting, especially when you’re dealing with a disability. Here are some strategies to help you cover your bills while you await disability benefits or explore other financial assistance options.

  • Explore State Supplements: Many states provide additional financial assistance on top of SSD benefits. These state supplements can range from $10 to $400 per month, potentially boosting your income.
  • Seek Community Resources: Local nonprofits and community organizations often offer help with food, housing, and utility bills. Look into services like food banks, housing assistance programs, and utility relief funds.
  • Consider Short-Term Assistance Programs: Temporary financial assistance programs, like emergency rent or food assistance, can provide critical support during times of need.
  • Consult Legal Aid or Financial Counseling: Legal aid organizations and financial counselors can help you understand your options, navigate applications, and manage your finances during this challenging period.

How Long Does Approval Take After I Quit My Job?

Frankly, here are three things that greatly improve your approval chances:

  1. Consult an experienced local attorney for free before you apply. We can match you with someone today for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation based on your ZIP code. This person can review your info and answer all your claim questions by phone. You’ll get guidance that matters to your specific case, like how long people in your area typically wait for approval.
  2. After your consultation, quit your job as soon as you can reasonably do so. You may wish to delay this step until you can put aside some extra money. You’ll need to go about five months without income before the SSA can pay you any SSDI benefits. (This mandatory five-month waiting period is required by federal law.)
  3. Lastly, gather convincing medical evidence to support your claim and submit it. Unless you have a terminal illness DDS can independently confirm, your claim review takes at least 3-5 months, on average. If the SSA pulls your medical records after you file, expect to wait a year (or longer).

Filing your application with correct, complete info and convincing medical evidence is key for rapid claim review and approval.

How to Nearly Triple Your Chances for Disability Approval

People don’t like hearing this, but the disability application process is confusing and difficult. Government forms are hard to understand and fill out for a reason. Anything they can do to discourage people from applying lets them keep more taxpayer money. Having a lawyer file your disability application makes you almost 3x more likely to qualify on your first try.

In recent years, about 1 in 5 first-time applicants won benefits on their first try. Out of all applicants, just 32% ever receive benefits. In fact most people must appeal 2-3 times before they can draw benefits. You might think you don’t need a lawyer if your doctor says you’re disabled. However, lawyers understand the process well. They know the government rejects some people’s claims for surprising reasons, such as bad handwriting. A lawyer can request (and even pay for) complete medical records, check your claim status and communicate with the SSA on your behalf.

Denied the first time? An attorney can file your appeal and correct any paperwork mistakes. You won’t have to appear or testify in court because your attorney does that for you. Think you can’t afford it? All disability attorneys work on contingency. That means you pay nothing for legal assistance unless your case wins. You owe your lawyer $0 if you don’t win benefits. And if you win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.

Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse. A proud graduate of Texas State University, she has been based in Austin since 2016, where she lives with her dog. Shay has contributed extensively to various domains, writing and publishing articles about real estate, investing, disability, and urban living.