Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA): Meaning and Examples

People receiving SSDI or SSI who earn more than the monthly SGA limit may lose their benefits.
Davin Dearth
By Davin Dearth 
Edited by Tina Orem

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Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is a term to describe significant physical and/or mental effort performed in exchange for wages or intended profit. The Social Security Administration uses SGA to help determine whether a person is eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Understanding what counts as SGA and how it affects SSDI and SSI eligibility is essential if you’re seeking or receiving benefits.

2023 SGA limits

People receiving SSDI or SSI who earn more than the monthly SGA limit may lose their benefits. The SGA limits change every year to account for inflation and are higher for people who are blind Substantial Gainful Activity. Accessed Sep 26, 2023.


Monthly SGA limit, blind

Monthly SGA limit, nonblind






No limit.







No limit.


What counts as SGA?

Income that counts as SGA includes:

  • Wages: Earnings from employment, including salaries and hourly wages.

  • Self-employment: Income after deducting business-related expenses from running a business or being self-employed.

  • Royalties: Income from creative works, patents or intellectual property.

  • Bonuses and commissions: Extra compensation to reward performance or productivity How Do We Define Disability?. Accessed Sep 26, 2023.

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What’s excluded from SGA?

Certain types of income are excluded from SGA calculations SSDI and SSI employment Supports. Accessed Sep 26, 2023.

  • Impairment-related work expenses (IRWE): Costs that are necessary to enable a person with a disability to work, such as assistive devices, transportation and job coaching.

  • Blind work expenses (BWE): Expenses blind individuals incur to enable them to work, including service animal expenses or specialized transportation.

  • Subsidy and special conditions: Benefits received for supportive services such as counseling or therapy, as well as employer-provided “subsidies” that result in receiving more pay from an employer than the actual value of the services provided.

  • Student earned income exclusion (SEIE): For SSI recipients under 22 who are attending school, a portion of their earned income may be excluded from SGA calculations. The 2023 exclusion is $2,220 per month up to $8,950 per year in 2023; this increases to $2,290 per month up to $9,230 in 2024.

  • Plans to achieve self-support (PASS): Funds set aside for specific work-related goals, such as education, assistive technology or job training.

  • Unsuccessful work attempt (UWA): Work you stopped or reduced to below SGA after six months or fewer because of your impairment or the removal of special conditions related to your disability that helped you work. 

  • VA benefits: Veterans disability benefits and other kinds of government assistance that don’t come from Social Security. 

  • Passive income: Income from investments, rental properties or other sources that do not require active work generally do not count (although it may affect eligibility for SSI). 

How is SGA reported?

The Social Security Administration receives information about your SGA through one of the following methods:

  • Self-reporting: If you are applying for disability benefits or are already receiving them, you are required to report your work and earnings to the SSA. This includes reporting any changes in work activity or income, such as starting a new job, an increase in work hours or changes in wages.

  • Work activity reports: A work activity report (Form SSA-821-BK), asks for details about the nature of the work, the number of hours worked and the earnings received. 

  • Monitoring: The SSA conducts periodic reviews of people receiving disability benefits to determine if they are still eligible. During these reviews, you must provide information about your work activity and earnings, and the SSA may request additional documentation, such as pay stubs or employer statements.

How is SGA used to make decisions regarding monthly benefits?

Here's how SGA factors into certain key decisions regarding monthly benefits:

  • Initial eligibility determination: When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA reviews your application and medical evidence to assess your eligibility. One of the primary considerations is whether you are engaging in SGA. If your work activity and earnings exceed the SGA threshold,  your application may be denied.

  • Trial work period (TWP): The SSA recognizes that people with disabilities may want to attempt to return to work without risking the immediate loss of their benefits. To encourage work, the SSA offers a trial work period (TWP). During the TWP, you can work and earn as much as you want for up to nine months during any 60-month period without affecting your disability benefits (the months are not necessarily consecutive).

  • Continuing disability reviews (CDRs): Individuals receiving disability benefits are subject to periodic CDRs to assess whether their medical condition has improved and whether they are still eligible for benefits. SGA is a key consideration during these reviews. If the SSA determines that your work activity and earnings demonstrate the ability to engage in SGA, you may lose your disability benefits Your Continuing Eligibility. Accessed Sep 26, 2023.

  • Expedited reinstatement (EXR): If the Social Security Administration halts a recipient's benefits due to the SGA limit but the person’s medical condition worsens within five years, they may be eligible for expedited reinstatement of benefits without having to reapply. This allows individuals to resume their benefits quickly if they are unable to continue working due to their disability Expedited Reinstatement (EXR). Accessed Sep 26, 2023.

Frequently asked questions

For 2023, if you earn $1,050 or more before tax or work more than 80 hours in self-employment in a month, you have worked a trial work period “service month” in the eyes of the Social Security Administration.

A trial work period allows you to test your ability to earn for at least nine months in a 60-month period. They do not need to be consecutive months. During this time you can work and receive your full SSDI benefits as long as you report your earnings and continue to meet the medical requirements for disability benefits.

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