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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 ($1,170 a month or $1,950 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 ($840 in 2017) with its monthly limits for substantial gainful activity ($1,170 in 2017, or $1,950 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 $840 a month.

Another example is that when the Social Security Administration says $840 a month, it doesn’t always mean $840 a month. If you are self employed, that figure means $840 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 $1,840 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.

Hi,
I have been completely blind since birth. Back into thousand and six I started working full time and also started my nine month trial period for Social Security disability. My employment was successful so after nine months my disability stopped. Into thousand 11 my job ended and I was able to have my benefits reinstated. Since then, I have had a part-time employment and have been able to stay under the SGA level each month. I am now able to return to my old job. Will I get a Nother nine month trial work period?

Hi Cory,
You will actually qualify for an expedited reinstatement for disability benefits, under which you cannot go over SGA once, otherwise you'll immediately be removed from the program! This is because you would not meet the SSA's definition of disability.

Hi Barbie,
You can certainly work part time, but I would not recommend earning more than $800 per month. If you do earn more than $800 per month, you'll trigger a trial work period, which could eventually stop your benefits.

Hi i have a question, i recently recieved my approval or award letter in july i was working on and off during my application process as it took awhile does that work go towards the trial work period or does the trial start after the approval letter thank you.

If I'm on the work trial period and my nine months end at the end of September to I still get a last check on the 3rd of October for September

My husband was diagnose with congestive heart failure back in May, we are awaiting his final yes or now for disability payments. This whole process is new to us and Ive been reading on here about a trial period. My question is Medicaid called and said they approved him and most likely he will get approved for social security. My question is he is thinking about going back to work, if he goes back to work and then gets approved can he still work, is that what the trial period is for? Just to see if he is really ready? He is concerned about being denied for looking for work? Again we are very new to the entire process.

Hi Tiara,
It seems like your husband is being approved for SSI, rather than SSDI which means he may not be eligible for the trial work period. However, he may be able to work, but the SSA reduces SSI benefits one dollar for every two dollars in income that he'd make.

I have been on ssdi for 3 years. Recently I have decided that the best thing to do for my mental health is to try and work part time. I have multiple disabilities, some of which are physical. I was hired part time at $10 an hour at a gas station in town, I have not yet begun working there but I told my employer I can only work 20 hours a week maximum. I understand that the TWP is $810 or higher. Does this mean that any monthly amount UNDER that $810 is NOT considered a trial work period? If so, can I work my job long term (if my health can handle it) and still recieve full benefits while not compromising them? My disabilities are ongoing, but I do think that in a couple more years I may be able to fully return to work if my health condition is completely managed. In the mean time, there is no way I can work full time and fully support myself without benefits or health care.

Hi there,
If you make under $810, the SSA would consider this a "failed" trial work period and would not start the process of transition from SSDI benefits to full time work.

I want to caution everyone out there that SS will often misconstrue or even lie about the trial work period and how that works. Just last week I had someone at my local SS office tell me that going over the 810 dollar amount didn't matter and wouldn't in any way cause me to lose my benefits. She also tried to tell me that SS tracked how much I made each month down to the day (as opposed to total monthly income) which I found to be ridiculous, because how can they know my schedule or earnings on a day-to-day basis? She kept insisting that the SGA amount ($1130 was all I needed to pay attention to.
So my question to everyone is this: Should we put any faith or trust in what people at the SS offices say? It seemed to me that the person I talked to was trying very hard to get me to work a little more each month so that I would go over the 810 dollar limit. Has anyone else had any dealings like this?

Hi John,
While you're in the trial work period, you can earn over that $810 limit for about nine months. I'm not really sure what the representative said to you, but it may be that they thought you were attempting to go back to work full time and stop receiving disability benefits.

during the trial work period is the $810 a month in earnings Gross or net that will constitute one month of the 9 trial months?

Here is a complicated mess!! I had a knee replacement in December of 2013. I had to move to Virginia in February of 2014, as my partner's father passed away suddenly of an aneurysm in November of 2013. I work with the developmentally disabled..and there are hardly ANY jobs in that field. I looked for two years and finally found a great job that I drive to 45 minutes one way three days a week.
I started that job in October of 2015. After our arrival in Virginia in February off 2014, I applied for disability due to my severely damaged right knee that did not improve after my knee replacement. So, while waiting for a decision from SSA, I began that job working as a residential counselor for 4 mildly disabled gentleman in Maryland. I FINALLY got my award letter in August of 2016. They determined that I became disabled on July 24, 2016. I have sent in all of my pay stubs since October of last year. My representative told me the SGA was $1,130.00. Then she tells me after Social Security calls me to say they may take away my benefits that that SGA amount was GROSS for the month, not net pay, or take-home pay. I have waited FOREVER for my benefits, and worked in pain. I couldn't reduce my hours below THAT SGA gross and still pay my bills. I honestly made a mistake and thought that the SGA amount was take home!! Gross means nothing to me..I don't ever see that tax money anyway....it was an honest mistake. Besides, it has only been two months note that I've even been declared disabled. Can I call them and tell them it really was an honest mistake and that I will quit my job while awaiting my benefits to start in February of next year??

Hi Donna,
I'm sorry to hear about that! It may be a good idea to contact them about this, if you've been sending in your slips, it may not have affected your case.

I started a business but it failed due to me being in the hospital for three months in a coma,SS says I have a second 9 months twp ,I only had business for three months but I lost money 8000,on a truck,and made no profit on the 15000 income,but was told I had didn't have 60 month consecutive work,from 2006 that's when I got first check,and only workers months since them

Hi Marcus,
You may still be covered under SSDI, they allow you to attempt to go back to work while receiving benefits.

I get paid every two weeks- meaning I get 26 paychecks per year, so two to three months per year I get three paychecks within a calendar month while working continually the same amount of work and time at work. Why should three paychecks in a month count towards a trial work period - why don't they look at whether I am working more in that month - for example, they could take my total earnings per year and divide it by twelve, so long as my hours are steady, and it would be approximately how much I earned per month. Or they could count the number of hours I was paid for in that month and total my pay for those hours and figure how much I earned that month - a truer figure. But unless I am earning very, very little, I am bound to have a trial work period in five years without even trying. Does that make sense? They appear to have a formula that give most people a trial work period in a certain amount of time no matter what.

Hi Ann,
Once you have completed a trial work period, you will still be eligible for benefits five years from the time it is completed.

When calculating if I have used a Trial Work Month, do I use the period end date of the paycheck or the date the check was paid?

Hi Ken,
You might calcuate it by adding all the money that you had gotten paid that month, rather than how much money you had earned, so you may want to go with the date the check was paid.

My situation is a bit different. I had brain surgery in 2013 and I have not worked since. I joined the ticket to work program in July of 15 and graduated nursing school as an LPN in july of 16. December of 16 I began work as a nurse. I talked to SSA and they stated that I had 9 months of a trial work period. They told me I could make 1170 a month and it not count. I called back in the next day to confirm and someone told me anything over 840 counted toward that 9 month trial work period no matter what I made.
Here is my situation: I decided to go to work full time. I begin RN school in June under my ticket to work program and when that happens my work will cease to 2-8 hour shifts a month to keep me employed so I will have a job after RN school. I received a letter today asking me to fill out some paperwork to determine if I can still keep my benefits or not. I'm so confused as to why I got this if I am in my trial work period. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!
(I just can't afford to lose my benefits and support my family of 5 while in RN school--& I want to go back to work full time and not worry about my benefits so badly. But I need to obtain my degree right now!)

Hi Heather,
I'm sorry for the confusion! So, with a trial work period, you are able to keep your benefits and earn over SGA ($1170) for nine months, and they do not need to be consecutive. The SSA considers any month where you earn over $840 a 'successful' trial work month and it is counted against those nine months.

Hi, I hope you can help explain.
I have been on SSDI since 2011 for Multiple Sclerosis. I want to try to work part time to supplement my income because I am single mom and my daughter will be turning 18 (loss of $1000/month) and going to college next year. My MS meds cost $30,000/year but thankfully I have private charity assistance to cover them.

I CAN NOT LOOSE Medicare or my monthly benefits. Please explain, If I stay under the SGA ($1170) will I be able to keep my SSDI? The TWP is $840/month... if I make $1169/month every month for the rest of my life, will I still be able to receive SSDI and Medicare? This is a survival question, so please be straightforward with me as my MS will do nothing but continue to worsen and I need to be able to eat and try to help my daughter with her school...

Hi Lyn,
You may be able to earn up to $840 a month without any change to your benefits, as earning over $840 in one month will make that month count towards a trial work period. After you have earned over $840 for nine months (these can be individual, non-consecutive months), the SSA may consider you able to work and would remove your monthly benefits. You may at that time still be eligible for Medicare.

Thank you Bryan! That's what I was worried about... the SGA amount is not for SSDI recipient's... the mention of it just makes things so confusing! Okay, last question... the TWP of 9 months is for a 2 Year or 5 Year period? My main concern is losing Medicare because of the MS which inevitably worsens over time and with stress. Thank you for your answers, very much appreciated :-)

Hi Lyn,
The Trial work period would be any nine months that you work and earn over $840 over a five year period. While you might have your benefits stop after the trial work period, you would still be eligible for medicare for 93 months after that.

When googling I see some lawyer sites such as this say after a trial work period they see if during the 9 months you went over SGA and if you did you will lose your benefits. While on the Social Security website it does not say this. I mostly hear that you can earn as much money as you want during a trial work period, but them saying this has me worried. Can you clarify?

Also I am baffled that they seem to not care that some months a person who gets paid once every two weeks (like most people) because of the dates you end up getting paid three times per month thus you end up making no more money than normal just getting a check bi-weekly yet you're exceeding their guidelines. I feel like there's no way with how big Social Security is that this would be some sort of mistake I feel it's a trick to get you to lose your benefits. I would love to hear a counter argument.

Hi Justin,
As the trial work period is intended to facilitate a SSDI recipient's reentry to the work force, there is no limit to your earnings for the nine months of a trial work period. Additionally, you would be by definition ineligible for benefits for any month that you make more than the Substantial Gainful Activity amount for that year.

"you would be by definition ineligible for benefits for any month that you do not make more than the Substantial Gainful Activity amount for that year"

-don't you mean "eligible" since you it's under sga?

Hello.

I am really confused now. I thought that after having completed, successfully, the nine-month trial work period but still being disabled, I could continue to work part-time as my health allows and still receive my Social Security Disability benefits, so long as I do not earn over the SGA monthly limit.

I had been receiving SSDI from 2002 until 2013, at which time I returned to work full-time. However, I again became disabled from regular work in 2015. From what I am reading here, if a person earns (gross?) over $810 in any month, for nine months, whether consecutive or not, then it is considered a successful trial work period and s/he then loses her/his SSDI benefits. If that is the case, then what is the SGA amount for?

I have a disability that is ongoing; however, I would like to continue to work part-time, as I am able to do so, for as long as possible. Now, I am afraid that I can only earn less than the $810 per month if I want to continue to work part-time while on SSDI.

Please help me to clarify this. My understanding had been that a person could successfully complete a trial work period working part-time but still be disabled, even though the trial work period would not be available for that person again, and thereafter, the SGA would apply if the person wanted to continue working while on SSDI. I hope that I am not making this too confusing.

I would greatly appreciate any assistance/general suggestions you could give. Thank you so much!

Hi there,
The Trial Work Period program assumes that the person in the program is attempting to return to the workforce full time. You would still be able to work part time while receiving disability benefits, but you may not be able to earn more than the amount that the SSA would consider a "successful" trial work period month ( This is $840 in 2017).

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