Question: If someone is getting social security benefits, can they work at all? And what if they have an investment property or are making money in the stock market?
Answer: There's a big difference between working and making money passively in an investment property or the stock market. Passively making money is not going to count against you, but if you are actually physically working (receiving a W-2 income), it may prevent you from claiming benefits.
You can work a little bit, but there are very strict rules on that. Here’s how it works: Social security will look at a rolling five-year period. If they see during that five year period a total of nine months where you've earned $750 per month or more, gross, they will consider that you've exhausted your “trial work period” and at that point, you should be able to go back to work. Now, we're not talking about nine consecutive months. We're talking about nine months total over a five year period. So can you work? Yes. Can you work a lot? No, you can't. You can't earn very much.
What if someone is getting social security benefits and he or she and their doctor thinks it’s appropriate to try to get back into the workforce? How does that work without criminally impairing their benefit stream? Well, there’s a program called “ticket to work” that the Social Security Administration runs and through that program, you can try for a limited period without losing your benefits. It’s pretty limited though; it's less than nine months. Essentially, you see how you do working, and if you're ok and if you can tolerate it, you may continue to work and stop your disability.
A big misconception about social security disability is that people are getting rich off it, but that’s not the case. At most, you might get $2000 a month, and that's from people who are highly productive, high earners. Most people would much rather be at work talking to their boss, than talking to a disability lawyer. All the negative publicity has done a real disservice to people who are truly injured and unable to work. It's probably made the process even longer; judges are more careful, and examiners are more conservative. They're looking for even more evidence than before.