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Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Once an applicant submits an application for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine if he or she is capable of earning substantial gainful activity (SGA) despite their condition. If the SSA finds that an applicant is unable to engage in SGA because of their disabling condition, he or she will qualify for benefits.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The SSA considers an individual who is receiving more than a certain amount in earned income per month to be engaging in SGA. This amount changes every year to compensate for the national average wage index. Since 2015, the SGA limit for a non-blind applicant is $1,130 per month and for a blind applicant is $1,820 per month. If an applicant exceeds the SGA limit, the SSA makes the assumption that the applicant’s disability must not be severe enough to qualify for benefits since he or she is capable of engaging in “competitive employment” in the U.S. economy; this will unfortunately result in a technical denial.

What If I Stop Working?

If you apply while earning more than $1,130, your application will most likely be denied immediately without a medical review. The SSA will send you a denial letter stating they are ineligible based non-medical criteria. Due to this factor, many applicants will cut their hours before applying for benefits to fall within the SGA limit so they are not denied. Although this seems like a clever attempt to get around the system, the SSA knows of this and will need you to prove one of the following:

  • Your condition has worsened to the degree that you can no longer work.
  • You were working a subsidized job under special conditions due to your impairment and should have been earning less in earned income for the job’s work.
  • You were forced to work despite your condition and endured the struggle because you needed income to survive.


What if I Own My Own Business?

If you own your own business, the SSA will review what work you are putting into the company to determine your substantial gainful activity. The SSA understands that the business’ net profit does not accurately portray the owner’s SGA and as a result, created “The Three Tests” to determine if your activity within the business is considered SGA.

You are engaging in SGA if:

  • You contribute services that are “significant” toward the operations of the business and earn a substantial income as a result.
  • You perform work for the business that is comparable to work of an individual without a disabling condition earning SGA.
  • You engage in work for the business that is worth more than the SGA limit in terms of its value or is comparable to the work of an employee receiving a salary more than the SGA limit.