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Know the Rules of the Social Security Disability Trial Work Period

The “trial work period” is a nine-month state of grace given by the Social Security Administration to any disability benefits recipient who wants to attempt re-entry to the work force. A disability benefits recipient has nine months of trial work period in each period of 60 months.

The idea behind the trial work period is that if your medical condition has improved to the point that you think you might be able to make a living, you can go to work and earn money for that nine-month period of time without jeopardizing your Social Security Disability payments. The ability to participate in the program is dependent on your reporting to the Social Security Administration your work activity, your income, and your expenses.

Even after the end of your trial work period you can still receive disability benefits for any month in which you do not make more than the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount ($1,000 a month or $1,640 a month if you are blind). You will lose your disability benefits if you make more than the maximum SGA.

Even if your disability benefits are halted because of the amount of your income, you will still be entitled to Medicare Part A for at least 93 months after the end of the nine-month trial period if you still require medical treatment. At the end of that period, you have the option of continuing Medicare Part A coverage by paying a premium. If you have Medicare Part B, you will just continue to pay the premium as you have in the past.

The Social Security Administration understands that while you may be successful in returning to work, your disability or medical condition may worsen and force you to stop work once again. If that is the case, within five years after you return to work, you will be eligible for “expedited reinstatement,” meaning you will not have to reapply for benefits and you will not have to wait for benefits while your medical condition is being reviewed.

As straightforward as the preceding may seem, the reality always differs slightly from the theory. For example, Social Security has not synced the monthly limits for its trial work period ($720 in 2010) with its monthly limits for substantial gainful activity ($1,000 in 2010, or $1,640 if you are blind). If you are receiving benefits, it is important that you be careful not to inadvertently use up your trial work period months by making more than $720 a month.

Another example is that when the Social Security Administration says $720 a month, it doesn’t always mean $720 a month. If you are self employed, that figure means $720 a month after expenses. Also, if you have expenses that are incurred in the course of your employment that relate directly to your disability (such as needing a specific type of computer or a certain type of wheelchair), the Social Security Administration will deduct those expenses from your gross earnings before they determine if you are over the limit. Presumably that means that if you have $1,000 in qualifying expenses, you could make $1,720 a month and still be under the trial work period limit.

The exceptions always prove the rule: before doing any sort of work for any kind of income, check with your Social Security Disability lawyer or other professional advocate and make sure that you are not taking the Social Security Administration’s guidelines at face value to your future detriment. Failure to comply with the SSA's regulations may result in cessation of disability benefits.

Comments

Kyle, I wanted to clarify some of your information regarding the Trial Work Period (TWP). You mention self-employment, and correctly note that the $720/mo is net earnings. However, you fail to mention that working 80 hours in self-employment within a month would also make it a trial work month. Also, the deductions for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the beneficiary for disability-related items needed for work (SSA calls them "IRWE" (Impairment-Related Work Expenses)) do NOT apply during the TWP. Subsidy/Special Conditions, IRWE, and other employment supports are not considered in determining TW months.

You also mention that "A disability benefits recipient has nine months of trial work period in each period of 60 months." You're referring to the 60-month rolling TWP, but it's much more accurate to note that once a beneficiary has used their 9 TW months, they are not eligible for another TWP within the same period of disability--whether or not it lasts longer than 60 months. If a person were to exhaust their TWP between May, 2004 and January 2005, they would NOT get a new TWP 60 months later (January, 2010). However, if their FIRST TW month was May, 2004, and they used three TW months between May, 2004 and July, 2004 (and none thereafter), that 1st TW month WOULD drop off 60 months later (in May, 2009). The other two would drop off the next two months. Suffice it to say that it's complicated. :)

I applaud your efforts to explain these difficult rules/regulations in understandable terms. I just wanted to clarify a few points so your readers don't accidentally misconstrue what's available to them with respect to employment supports.

Thanks! Jeff W.

Thanks for the clarification, Jeff W. The Trial Work Period is certainly a complex program, and I hope that your comments will clear up some of the uncertainties for people who are looking to re-enter the workplace or earn additional income.

Thanks Again!

Kyle

Exactly how much can a person earn that is on ssa Disability without losing it? And did I correctly understand that if the person attempts to reenter the work place medical condition gets worse they can get back on ssa disability without all the hopla!!!

I was disable since my first surgery 1999 but SSA denied my claim at that time but SSA Judge approved my disability in 2009 and funny thing they approved my disability only begining from 2007 instead 1999 my illness, spine surgery and have Oakland, Cal office) made ruling in 2009 and Granted, approved my benifits only from 2007. Can I appeal for it and any Attorney willing to help me out by getting fee as I win? Thank you. Paul Dhillon

I am currently on a trial work period with ssi. I have been working now for 8 months when i now am laid off due to no work available. I filed for unemploymens and qualified for it. (Just a couple days ago). Currenly a month of maximum earnings of $750 does not qualify for a month of work and does not go twords your trial months. Does umemployment qualify as "wages?" Ex; my unemployment benefits will be over $750/month.

As an attorney in Bakersfield CA and specializing in social security disability your article is a benefit to my practice. Keep the articles coming!

Joseph S. Pearl
Bakersfield Disability Attorney

I need to apply for disability but not sure how to go about it i have been in and out of hospital for 4 months now due to a blood clot in right leg i have very limited movement what should i do

I started recieving my SS Disability checks for the first month but I am outside the US. Can my mother sign them in my name. Can I still recieve it if I am out of the US? Thanks

Can you receive SSI Disability if you are on Unemployment ?

For most states I know of, to get UCB you have to be able and available for work. If you are disabled, you aren't that. So if you get SS Dis, then you should not be getting UCB. And if you get UCB, you should not be getting SS Dis.

can a person draw unemployment while waiting for their disability claim to be approved?

I was on disability for 3 years and tried out the Back to Work program for 2 years, but then could not do the job because of the original injury. Can I reapply for Disability Benefits?

Kyle -- You say: Social Security has not synced the monthly limits for its trial work period ($720 in 2010) with its monthly limits for substantial gainful activity ($1,000 in 2010, or $1,640 if you are blind). If you are receiving benefits, it is important that you be careful not to inadvertently use up your trial work period months by making more than $720 a month. So does this mean that if you make over $1000 a month in your trial work period, you will be cut off? If so, then I don't understand what they mean by saying that you can earn as much as you want in the 9-month trial work period without having your benefits cut off. Can you explain?

My husband is on SS Disability. I am also disabled but do not draw an income. Can I draw a spousal benefit check off my husband's check since I am disabled? I am 55 and my husbands check is $1148 a month.

For the disability trial work period, so far I already had one month with income more than $1000 which was above the limit of substaintial gainful activity setting. How this thing will be effected to my benefits? Could my benefit will be cut off right away because I may be subject for the substaintial gainful work even I am still at the 9 month trial work period? Please advise. Thanks a lot.

I started recieving SSDI 3 month ago. I am working freelance for a small company. I want to apply for the Working Disabled program. I have to earn within the Social Security guidelines. Is there a minimum income? I also have a friend who has been on SSDI for 4 years and is not recieving Medicare. How can he apply?

Is it legal to collect SS Disability while living overseas outside of the U.S.? Thanks.

If I stop my disability claim before I get benefits because I think I can at least work part time, and then find out I can't handle it, do I have to start back at square one or can I put it back in the active mode?

if i accept a full-time job but already used up my work trial period what happens next because im afraid i will get sick and not be able to work. I dont want to permanently lose my benefits if i return back to work because i can get sick again. Will i lose my benefits permanently if i return back to work full-time? or if i get sick again can i get my benefits back?