2023 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Exceptions & Income Limits

Originally posted on October 22, 2019. Updated December 15, 2022.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Limit for 2023

The Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit for 2023 is $1,470 per month. This is up from the 2022 limit of $1,350, as Social Security implemented a 8.7% cost-of-living increase for 2023. The SGA limit for 2023 for those who are blind is $2,460 per month.

Paulette Balin, Principal Attorney at Balin Law, discusses the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) income amounts along with SGA exceptions (Video references 2020 SGA Limits. Transcript updated with 2023 SGA Income Limits)

Video Transcript –  Updated with 2023 SGA Limits

Hi there, my name is Paulette Balin and I’m the principal at Balin Law.

I am happy to discuss with you today a subject called substantial gainful work activity, the government refers to it as “SGA.” And the newest number that came out for 2023, it just came out this week, is $1,470 [$1,350 in 2022, $1,310 in 2021, $1,260 in 2020]. In other words, if you are working and making more than $1,470, you can’t even pursue a disability claim because social security will not process it. They will say that you’re over this threshold amount, forget about it, you can’t pursue a disability claim. And I’m here to share with you some of the exceptions to that rule. There aren’t a lot, but they are juicy and I want to share them with you.

SGA Exception #1: impairment related work expenses

First of all, let’s say you are working and making $3,000 a month gross. You can take away from that $3,000 a month gross any out-of-pocket work related expenses. So if, let’s say, you’re incontinent and you have to pay for Pampers or you have to pay co-pays, you can’t deduct insurance costs, but you can deduct co-pays, deductibles, and you’ve got these huge expenses.

Let’s say you need to drive with a scooter, and you need to install a ramp at your house so that you can take the scooter with you to your minivan to drive to work. Well, a specially equipped minivan or the cost of installing that ramp, even though there’s certainly a personal nature to those, those are also considered impairment related work expenses. So what we can do is add up all those costs of the ramp and the special minivan, etc., and amortize it over the cost of a year and be able to come down to less than that threshold amount of $1,470.

SGA Exception #2: income averaging

Another thing that is a factor that we can play with is some months you may have a double paycheck, in which case your monthly income is more than one $1,470, and other months less. Well what we can do is add up your income, if it’s, let’s say at the same employer, and just divide it by the number of months you’re working to come up with less than $1,470. That’s called income averaging. And according to the social security rules you’re supposed to compute it either way that is going to benefit you. So income averaging is another tool we can use.

SGA Exception #3: special accommodations

I also want to talk about special accommodations. I had a client once whose uncle owned a small business, and my client got paid quite well, but he was allowed to go into the back room and sleep whenever he wanted to and otherwise come and go at his leisure. So, the true value of his work activity was compensated at a rate far above what any colleague of his was paid. So we were able to get statements from his relative employer indicating that his compensation was not commensurate with what he was actually doing for the business. And as a result, we were able to get him under that magical amount of, now, $1,470 a month. So, those subsidies are really important.

So those are some exceptions to those magical rules. Another subject that I don’t want to get in too heavily here, but I’m happy to discuss with you, is before your case is resolved, what happens if you give it a go and go back to work for a very short period of time, not more than six months? If you went back to work with great hopes, but you found that your impairment kept you from being able to do that work, then that short stint of work activity can be excused as what’s called an unsuccessful work attempt.

We can help you navigate these SGA exceptions

So our job is to help our clients navigate all these SGA exceptions so that you can move forward with a meritorious disability claim.

Already on Disability and have a SGA question?

Contact Social Security directly! They already have all your info and can answer your question much better than we can!

Be sure and check the SSA Redbook first – it should have everything you need to know!

We can only help people who are not yet receiving disability, or who have had their disability benefits wrongfully terminated. If you are currently receiving benefits from Social Security, please direct your questions to the Social Security Administration.

39 thoughts on “2023 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Exceptions & Income Limits

  1. Disabled adult son on SSI worked over SGA in 2018, so when we applied for our social security he was denied SSDI on our earnings. Job was through temp agency for 5 months with fixed end date. There was on interview so employer unaware of disability. Employee wrote exceptional referral letter at end of employment but will not answer emails or phone calls seeking details. Company would not rehire son the next summer, nor would anyone else. Concerned he lost a safety net before he is sure he can support himself. Maybe income averaging will work: 5/18 $450, 6/18 $1752, 7/18 $2080, 8/18 $1352, 9/18 $124. Average is $1152 and 2018 SGA is $1180. I drove him to work but did not expense milage. Do we have case for appeal?

    1. Hi Bob, we completely understand your concerns and there are certainly creative methods to find avenues to improve the likelihood of winning and overturning denials. We invite you to contact our office for a free consultation 866-49-BALIN (866-492-2546).

  2. I am presently working, I am looking to go out on disability. I have had arthritis in my back for years, the past several months I’ve taken off many hours of work. I work for the state so I still get paid. I have multiple other issues along with that. I have scoliosis in my back and just took an MRI to see why it’s gotten worse. I have hypoglycemia which they have not figured out why; this has many effects and it happens at work. I’ve incontinent. it hurts to sit, stand, sleep most days.

    1. Hi MaryRose, we are very sorry to hear about your worsening conditions. Please feel free to call us for a free consultation at 866-492-2546 and get any questions you have answered. -EP

  3. Hello Paulette,
    I’m a current SSDI beneficiary. I also perform work as a ridesharing partner. My SGA allowance is $1260/month. My countable income is calculated at the end of the year based on AGI..Can you cover any considerations that could be made for 2021 based on Covid19.. i have been allowed under The Cares Act to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, normally self employed individuals as you know do not normally qualify for state benefits. The work I normally perform is substantial in the sense that combining normal workload with SSDI allows me to remain self sufficient., and it tailors to my diagnosis in that being an independent contractor, I can adjust my work schedule to maximize earnings when I do perform work but not compromise my health. I would appreciate any guidance moving forward. Just a side note also…under The Cares Act I qualified based on Covid19 having a significant impact on my business, I essentially had hours reduced to zero, and in my weekly certifications, attest that at the advice of a primary care physician , that the there is a significant risk factor associated with my line of work….

    1. Hi chrisl, thanks for your question and sharing this info. We have sent your inquiry to our staff, but please feel free to call us for a free consultation at 866-49-BALIN.

  4. I would like to know if people receiving SSD benefits can ha e a savings account. Thank you for your help.

    1. Hi Mary. If the case is under SSI (Supplemental Security Income), one cannot have over $2000 in resources (which includes savings accounts but some things like a house you own and live in are excluded) or lose SSI. If regular SSDI case, no problem with any amount in a savings account.

  5. My doctor has signed papers for me to take a leave of absence because of COVID, I work part time and I was wondering if I can get unemployment due to covid.

    1. Hi Leslie, First, we hope you are doing OK. We know COVID-19 affects many people differently. Your question here sounds like an unemployment question. Our firm handles Social Security disability claims for people with disabling conditions that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. We are beginning to see individuals present as “COVID-19 Long Haulers” and if your COVID symptoms are lingering and they are preventing your from working, we invite you to contact our firm so we can explore your case. Call 866-49-BALIN (866-492-2546). -EP

  6. Is sga money you earned in a month or the actual money you were paid that money. Is it earnings or money received?

    1. Hi Frances, It is your “gross” monthly earnings received in a month, (i.e. before any deductions for taxes, FICA, Medicare, or other common deductions inc child support, car payments etc.) There are deductions allowed from the gross amount for impairment related work expenses. We are happy to help you navigate this if your earnings are way reduced and not hugging SGA threshold levels of $1310/mo in 2021. Please call or contact us 866-49-BALIN (866-492-2546) -PFB

  7. I have been on ssdi since 2010 I was abel to get a job that works around my schedual for most part I have fibromyalgia, mugrains,a vsd in my heart. But I do parenting with client . Point being somehow I went over my statement. By 2600. But here is where I’m lost I got pd for covid leave 3 or 4 times and will they deduct my dr bill that is 150 a month so im abel to work and I also pay script out of pocket. Is there any other deductions I can use or should use?? Thsnk you for any help

    1. Hi Mandy, please give our office a call. Some other people are experiencing this as well. 866-49-BALIN (866-492-2546)

  8. Hi, I have been on SSI since 2011. I’m currently only 55. I just found a nice PT Job for 20 hrs week gross monthly 1280 just under the sga. But I purchased a Mobility scooter to get to work 6,500.00 took out a personal loan and used CC. to buy can this be deducted so as I can give my dept. more hours to use me as coverage if I’m physically up for it. Is there a List of Deductions I can use. I also have co pays. And If so how is this done ?

    1. Hi Debra, individuals must remain under the income limit threshold. We encourage you to look at the red book by visiting http://www.SSA.gov which explains how to navigate impairment related work expenses (IRWE). Also, REALLY helpful is SSR 84-26 that specifically addresses IRWE under both SSD and SSI. Hope this helps. -PFB

  9. Hi,
    I’m considering Disability, and I know I will qualify. At least; my PCP thinks I’m a good candidate.

    If I go over the SGA ($1310) by $22.00 each month, will this disqualify me?

    1. Hi Terry, you’ve asked a very fact-specific question, the answer to which is “it depends.” There are a variety of exceptions and deductions that can be used to reduce your earnings below the SGA threshold. Working even well below the SGA threshold while applying for disability can be a real mine field. I’d recommend contacting a knowledgeable attorney to assist you before you file an application for benefits. Feel free to contact us at 866-492-2546 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

  10. Been on social security disability 11 years I’m 61 thinking about working part time earning way under the substantial gainful amt and hours between 4-8 per week do I have to let SSD know I’m working I will be applying for Part B come January as I was covered under my husband which is ending in August so now I have to pay for medical coverage until next July as I did not apply for part b when I was suppose to after he retired my mistake 😔

    1. Hi Donna, you get 9 trial work period months in 2021 where you can make $940/mo GROSS( ie before taxes etc). Stay UNDER that and you will not mess with anything. Problems arise where you use up 9 TWP months, so stay under that. -PFB

  11. While waiting for ssd to say yes or no on my claim can i work as long as i dont go over the 1310.00, with out affecting anything?

    1. Hi Gary,
      Not necessarily. Keep in mind that the type of work you chose to do may also affect your claim. While earning more than SGA is complete bar to receiving benefits, work under SGA is evidence for the Social Security Administration of what you can and can’t do. So while you’re still able to receive benefits for the months you worked under SGA, you’re also creating evidence that may support or hurt your case.
      Here are two articles that may be helpful: Returning to Work: How Does That Affect My Disability Claim?
      Working While Your Disability Claim is Pending: A Delicate Balance
      Feel free to give us a call if you have further questions.

  12. I receive SSDI. I also sell on eBay. What is the cutoff amount that I have to be under each month. Also do I need to notify Social Security every month?

    1. Hi Lewis, he Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit for 2022 is $1,350 per month. You should ask Social Security how they would like you to report it and how often.

  13. I receive SSDI. If I work for a school, and only work 9 months out of the year, can I make more than $1,350/mo as long as I don’t go over my $16,200/yr?

    1. Hi Lynn, SGA is an acronym for Substantial Gainful Activity. If you’re capable of earning a gainful income several months during the year, Social Security would say you’re capable of earning it all the time. You’re not under the SGA limit because your disability it keeping you from working, you’re under the SGA limit because your job isn’t offering you summer hours. Does that make sense?

  14. Hi,
    I am deaf and I am current SSDI monthly active. I work for 4 years now. I always reported wages on SSA.gov two monthly. I earned least 1,200 a month and less than SGA for 2022. Feb 2022, I worked 20 hours and paid. I not expect that payroll gave a error paid sick day 20 hours and earned 20 hours same a week. It was added up 250.00 above on SGA on Feb 2022 (one time). HR want return money from 20 hours sick day. March 2022, I returned 20 hours pay sick day to HR. Does effect SGA getting above for Feb 2022? or change reduce under SGA for Feb 2022?

    1. Hi Carl,
      We recommend calling your local SSA office and talking to them about it. However, if you’re on SSDI, you likely have nothing to worry about because SGA only applies to earned income. Only wages or net earnings from your work effort count, so things like unemployment pay, sick leave, inheritance, travel expense reimbursement, etc., would not count toward SGA. That is only true for SSDI though, not Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

  15. we just found out ss stopped my adult sons ssdi. no notification just cancelled every thing. We have a phone appt. comming up in May. His yearly income was over the sga amount, I am assuming they never took into account paid time off thru out the year. which equals about 136 hrs total amount about 1,900.00 dollars. any suggestions?

    1. Hi Shirley,
      Work activities have to be reported to Social Security. When earnings are reported, it must be noted if it was not earned income – they have no way of knowing what’s what. If it was noted when he reported his wages, and his earned income was under SGA, then just be sure you have documentation ready for your appointment in May.
      Here are some resources that may help.

      1. They have always reviewed him every 2 years . Sept. 2022 is when we were expecting the next one. Its just upsetting that they just stopped with all benefits with no notification, or letter. Only to find out when he went to fill his medication.

  16. Why are you (and others) saying the limit is $1350? It’s my understanding that if you make more than $970 a month for 9 months (cumulative not consecutive) within a 60-month period, you are going to be considered in a trial work period and eventually lose your benefits.

    1. Josephine,
      We recommend working directly with SSA for any matters regarding working while on Disability. Here’s a link to the Red Book (https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/) which has more information on the Trial Work Period and returning to work, but each Social Security office also has a Work Incentive Liaison there to provide advice and information about work incentives. Also in the Red Book, which out the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Projects section on page 13.

  17. My sister owns a tax business. I am on disability and work for her. She pays everyone weekly for 32 hours. I only work 24 hours weekly, but she still pays me for 32 hours like everyone else. She allows me less work hours due to my disability. Is the difference considered a subsidy and why does ssdi include it in my SGA? Also they say that I am making SGA in 2022 because I made 1350/mth. They denied my benefits and told me I can only make 1349/mth?

    1. Hi Sandy,
      You should get affidavits from your sister/boss and others, confirming that you are paid more and do less than your co-workers. Where there is a subsidy, one must advocate strongly as SSA only looks at the reported earnings and does not typically dig further. Check out the SSA Red book on ssa.gov – page 22 has more info on “Subsidies and Special Conditions”.

  18. I am referring to The Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit for 2022 is $1,350 per month. I am not comprehending if this amount refers to the net income or gross income. I am also not clear on what “earned income” is; is that gross or net?

    1. All numbers are gross income – pre-tax income.
      “Earned income” is only income that was earned by working. If you didn’t earn the money by working for it, it’s not “earned income”. A perfect example is vacation time or sick leave – those are not earned income. Other examples that are not earned income – Unemployment Benefits, policy payouts from Short-Term or Long-Term Disability Insurance, child support, alimony, inheritance, lottery winnings, stock dividends. Any income that isn’t earned income isn’t counted when it comes to SSDI, as it is literally Disability Insurance; it’s an insurance policy that you’ve already paid your share into. So just like a Long-Term Disability Insurance policy that you (or your employer) purchase, all that matters is that you can no longer work to earn income.
      SSI on the other hand is a needs-based program, so all income counts, earned or not. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is strictly for people who need income to survive because they have no other resources and cannot earn an income, but didn’t “purchase” a disability insurance policy (via Social Security taxes while working).

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