Skip Navigation HomeAbout BONDFrequently Asked QuestionsReal-life Situationsen español

1.5.1 Earnings guidelines

Self-employment income: If you are self-employed and your disability is not blindness, the way SSA evaluates your work activity for SGA purposes will depend on whether the work activity being evaluated occurs before or after you have received SSDI benefits for 24 months and the purpose of the evaluation. SSA will apply either the three tests or the countable income test to determine if your work activity is SGA, depending on when you work.

SSA applies three tests to evaluate your work activity when you initially apply for SSDI and prior to your receiving SSDI benefits for 24 months. SSA will also use the three tests to evaluate your work activity during the re-entitlement period to decide if benefits can be reinstated in the extended period of eligibility after SSA has determined your disability has ended due to SGA work activity. Your self-employment work activity is SGA if it falls under one of the following:

The Countable Income Test. SSA will apply the countable income test if you have been entitled to and received SSDI benefits for at least 24 months. SSA will only use the countable income test to determine whether you have engaged in SGA and if your disability has ended as a result of that SGA.

SSA will compare your countable earnings to the SGA earnings guidelines. If your monthly countable earnings average more than $1,180 (in 2018), SSA will determine that you have engaged in SGA unless there is evidence that you are not rendering significant services during the month. If your monthly countable earnings average less than $1,180 ($1,970 for blind beneficiaries), SSA will not consider you to have engaged in SGA.

If you are self-employed and your disability is blindness: SSA decides SGA based on whether you have received a substantial income from the business and rendered significant services to the business. SSA makes this determination using your countable earnings. SSA also uses your countable earnings to determine whether you have engaged in SGA and whether payments can be reinstated during the Extended Period of Eligibility.

If you are self-employed, your disability is blindness, and you are age 55 or older, special rules apply. If your earnings demonstrate SGA but your work requires a lower level of skill and ability than the work you did before age 55, or when you became blind (whichever is later), SSA will suspend, not terminate, your benefits. Your eligibility for SSDI benefits continues indefinitely, and SSA pays your benefits for any months in which earnings fall below SGA.

A beneficiary's net earnings from self-employment are used as the starting point for determining countable income. These come from the individual's net earnings from self-employment as reported on his or her most recent federal income tax return.

Also, the following items are deducted from net earnings to determine the countable income: