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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 ($1,130 a month or $1,820 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 ($810 in 2016) with its monthly limits for substantial gainful activity ($1,130 in 2016, or $1,820 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 $810 a month.

Another example is that when the Social Security Administration says $810 a month, it doesn’t always mean $810 a month. If you are self employed, that figure means $810 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 $1,810 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

i wanted to know if the trial work program will accept any type of new business. Do they have guidelines on how your business plan is set up?

Hi Danny,
yes and no. You will simply need to set a goal with the SSA representative who handles your case. If the new business helps you reach your goal, you can set up a trial work period. Your goal can be to reach a new level of education, hit a certain income, preform a certain job, etc.

I just did my 2015 tax reporting. I lost $3,000 doing the ride-sharing, Uber.
I did the Net Earning Self Employment(NESE)calculation which arrived at $760 per month. Monthly earnings I had was not consistent.

Last year, I reported my earning for May which exceeded the the Substantial Gainful Activity(SGA) at $1090 for 2015. It is only one month that went above the SGA amount.

I reported that earning to the Social Security office and it counted it as one trial month. After doing the NESE calculation, I think it should be uncounted toward the trial month. Can I undo this?

Thank you.

Hi Nancy,
It's unlikely that you can "undo" one trial work period. So long as you don't have nine over the next few years, you should be fine.

I am confused. I was told that I can make up to $1130 while on SSDI, but the trial work period is $810 a month? I have already used up my trial work period, which ended way back in December of 2015. I have pretty much made over $810 every month since then, and I have reported all my earnings to social security. I was also told by social security that I can make up to $1130 a month and still receive my benefits, but I am thrown off by the trial period maximum being $810. So can I make up to $1130 a month on disability, or $810? I have made over $810 after my trial work period for the last year every month, but they have not stopped my payments.

Hi,
Since you have completed the Trial work period, you will still be eligible for benefits if you do not earn more than the SGA amount in any given. So yes, you can make over the $810 amount, but not the $1,130 monthly SGA amount.

My husband is recovering from brain cancer and is currently cancer free. He is receiving disability and is on a trial work period. If he is successful after the nine months will he have to pay back the disability payments he is now receiving? We do send in and report his paystubs to SSA every two weeks. He recently was hospitalized with kidney stones and has surgery and was off a week of work.

Hi Angela,
SSDI benefits are disability insurance payments, and as such you do not have to repay them, unless you had not informed them of a change in income or disability status that would have changed your eligibility for those benefits and they had overpayed you.

Hi, I didn't know I have to report any income while I correcting disability help. My benefit started July 2015 at the same time I was helping my friend to stay with me to received $300 per month from January to October 2015. Have I exceeded the maximum amount, would that affect my continue benefit?

so during the trial period you have 9months initially and there is no limit to what you can make? where do i go to set the trial period up ?

Hi Gina,
Trial work periods are triggered by earnings, there is no need to apply.