Know the Rules of the Social Security Disability Trial Work Period

Submitted by Chris on Tue, 02/01/2011 - 09:38

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 ($1,310 a month or $2,190 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 ($940 in 2021) with its monthly limits for substantial gainful activity ($1,310 in 2021, or $2,190 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 $880 a month.

Another example is that when the Social Security Administration says $940 a month, it doesn’t always mean $940 a month. If you are self employed, that figure means $940 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 $1,900 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.

Blog comments

Heather (not verified)

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!)

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 23:38 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Heather (not verified)

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.

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 09:32 Permalink
Lyn (not verified)

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...

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 15:51 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Lyn (not verified)

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.

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 09:52 Permalink
Lyn (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

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 :-)

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 23:07 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Lyn (not verified)

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.

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 13:00 Permalink
Justin Mathis (not verified)

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.

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 23:34 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Justin Mathis (not verified)

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.

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 10:51 Permalink
Jack (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

"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?

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 23:08 Permalink
Liam (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

I am blind, and have a question. How do biweekly paychecks factor in to the GSA. IE. Let's say I make $700 every two weeks. for the month normally I make $1400. However, a few months a year there is a third paycheck since months are like that, and I get an additional $700 taking me to $2100 which is over the GSA for blind recipients. Does this disqualify me for SSDI? Or is GSA figured on a yearly basis. As a follow up, should I be submitting my pay stubs each month, or just be letting it be sorted out in taxes. Finally. yes I have three questions. Is GSA based on gross or net income. Thanks for answering my questions :)

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 18:10 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Liam (not verified)

HI Liam,
That may not disqualify you for SSDI, you would have to report your pay stubs, and SGA is based on pre-tax, gross income.

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 09:47 Permalink
Ava Smith (not verified)

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!

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 19:54 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Ava Smith (not verified)

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).

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 13:03 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Michael (not verified)

Hi Michael,
It's best to check in with the SSA prior to a change in employment status, they can give you the information needed to ensure a smooth transition.

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:39 Permalink
Vicki (not verified)

I just started my disability with social security and I was wondering if I can do uber or lfyt while on social disability insurance can only drive when I'm able to sit long enough to drive

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 22:43 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Vicki (not verified)

HI Vicki,
you may be able to, but it may be a good idea to contact your local SSA office for some more information that would be specific to your case.

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 09:21 Permalink
bob (not verified)

So for 2017...if you are on ssi and ssdi, would you lose your benefits if you were working under $840 (less than TWP) even if it is for a long time-like more than nine months or even years? Or would they still look at it at some point as grounds to take away your benefits? Thank you

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 23:40 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by bob (not verified)

Hi Bob,
You would not lose SSDI benefits as if you earn under $840, you would not be considered to have completed a "successful" trial work period month. However, you may have a change in SSI benefits as those benefits are based on income rather than work record, and you would have a reduction of one dollar for every two that you earn.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 16:44 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by john (not verified)

HI John,
SSI is based on income and financial resources - the SSA determines your eligibility based on how much you make and how much you have in savings, bank account, and whatever other assets you would be able to exchange for money.
SSDI is based on work record through payroll taxes, which would determine your eligibility and benefits based on how much you paid into it.

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 17:00 Permalink
Mike (not verified)

I am on ssi and ssdi for a couple of years already. I should be getting a CDR in 2018. If I start a a TWP in 2017, will notifying the ssa of this put a bias against me in the CDR evaluation? Could it be that If I had a couple of months (but not over 9) over sga level level work under 2017 for the TWP program...could my following year 2018 CDR look at these few months and determine that I am not disabled? (even though I did not even finish my TWP? and even if my medical condition did not improve /even got worse since the last CDR?) tHANK YOU

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 02:26 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Mike (not verified)

Hi Mike,
You may want to coordinate with your local SSA office, but they may not count the trial work period against you as proof that you are able to work.

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 16:45 Permalink
Jim (not verified)

I'm 61. I've been approved for SSDI. My onset date is October 26, 2016. I'll receive my first check ~May 17, 2017. I can not work out of my house but have been approached to try and do some freelance work at home. Can I attempt to work before I receive benefits or should I wait until I start receiving my first check? It will only be for a week or so but above the SGA.

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 14:37 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Jim (not verified)

Hi Jim,
You may want to check in regarding this with your local SSA office,
however if you are able to earn over the SGA you may not be eligible for benefits.

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 09:14 Permalink
David (not verified)

I have just started receiving my Social security disability benefits. I have been offered a job that I think I can do and would like to try. I will earn over the 1170 by about 4 times that amount. Will I still receive my full benefits during the first 9 months? And will I have to pay it back if I stay working after the 9 month period?

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 03:27 Permalink
Kim (not verified)

Why is it so confusing?? So after the TWP if I make over $840 a month, that is considered substantial employment and I MAY lose my SSDI indefinitely? How is it determined whether my benefits are stopped or not. What if your disability is permanent and will never change?

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 23:50 Permalink
JD (not verified)

So I am working and currently not making above SGA limit, but I will be later this year, only by 30 $, no more trial work period. is there any way to keep my benefits ? current level is 1170, I would be at 1200 ?

Sun, 03/05/2017 - 22:30 Permalink
Eric

In reply to by JD (not verified)

Hi JD,

It's tough to say. You may want to contact the SSA or your local office to find out more about the specifics of your case.

Best of Luck,
Eric

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 16:44 Permalink
Jammin Green (not verified)

In reply to by Eric

My question is if they do not cut your benifits do they subtract what you made from your check or as long as it's under the 800$ it fine?

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 12:05 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Jammin Green (not verified)

Hi there,
the SSA will reduce SSI checks one dollar for every two that you earn. So if you earn $100, your check would be reduced by $50.

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 09:42 Permalink
Louis (not verified)

I am on SSD and started doing the ride share with Uber for a few hours a day. I know I am only allowed to earn 840.00 a month not to count it as I trial month. But is that 840.00 a month gross or can I deduct the .54 a mile deduction that the IRS allows and other expenses.

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 14:45 Permalink
Louis (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

So Bryan

If I drive 68 miles total online for uber and earn 29.90 as I did yesterday. SSD will say I earned 29.90, not taking the .54 a mile I deduct on my taxes?

68 miles x .54 deduction ='s 36.72.....with this math I lost 6.82

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 12:24 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Louis (not verified)

Hi Louis,
I really could not say if that's valid for tax purposes as we are not tax experts but the SSA may count your gross income to determine a successful trial work month.

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 14:18 Permalink
Louis (not verified)

In reply to by Bryan

I cannot get a straight answer even from SS.

EX: In February I grossed 1125.09 driving for uber. BUT I drove 1,689 miles to do it The IRS give approx. .54 a mile write off . So as far as the IRS is concerned milage alone is a $912.00 write off at year end. So $1125.00 minus $912.00.. I actually earned $213.00 for the month...How do I know which figure SSD will consider if it's 1125.00 it's considered a trial month..

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 19:38 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Louis (not verified)

Hi Louis,
The SSA is not the IRS, and so any figures you use based on your mileage may not apply. Generally, the gross ( total, pre-tax) monthly income, minus your disability-related expenses, would be used. Mileage may not be considered an expense in this context.

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 08:56 Permalink
Barbara (not verified)

I am currently in the appeals process with SS. I had a trial period of work in 1993 where they took two months of my income and divided it by 12, making the monthly income for that year $231 - $31 over the $200 allowed. Fast forward to 2006 where I worked four months and two months were over the SGA. In 2012 SS discontinued my benefits. I have been appealing ever since. I recently read about the 60 month rule and am unclear on how this works. If I worked in 1993 and completed my trial work period, does the trial work period start again in 60 months? I am appealing the 1993 reporting of income, but since it has been so long, my employer does not have records going back that far. In April of 1993 I moved out of state and did not work for the rest of the year. I don't know how to get proof that I moved out of state. Could you please explain the 60 month rule after 1992? Thank you!

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 10:29 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Barbara (not verified)

Hi Barbara,
I'm not sure your ineligibility for benefits is due to the trial work period, It may be that your earning over SGA for those months may have made the SSA consider your condition to be such that you could be able to earn over SGA, and you would be ineligible for benefits because of that.

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 10:03 Permalink
Lisa (not verified)

I'm completely & totally lost here. I've been on SSDI since 2005. I've used my TWP for the 60 months & am trying to go back to work without loosing my SSDI. How can i do so & what amount do I need to keep my income under so i dont

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 00:08 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Lisa (not verified)

Hi Lisa,
The Trial Work Period is intended to enable people who'd like to return to work the ability to do so without becoming ineligible for benefits while they do that. However, after completion of the trial work period, you would be considered ineligible for benefits if you make over $1,170 a month.

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 09:58 Permalink
Cindi (not verified)

Chris,

I've been on SSD for 18 months and have several questions.

I am planning on going back to work part time as I cannot survive on my disability payment alone and buy groceries. I found something I think I can do and the pay is $200 per week for part time. I will be paid as a 1099 employee so there will be no earnings sent in by the employer weekly. Do I have to personally inform the Social Security Office that I am attempting to work? and fax/mail check stubs weekly?

I understand the limits of $840/$1170. If I understand this correctly,would that mean on the months that have 5 paydays and I earn $1000 for the month, they would count as 1 of my 9 trial months? ( I think there are 4 of these per year)

If I happen to make some commissions (paid once a month in a separate check) and they were over $40 would it make every month count toward my trial months because my total earnings would be over $840 a month? after 9 months I would lose my benefits ?

So in essence and as I understand it , I will lose my benefits if I take a part time job paying $200 a week and do well at it,( making over 840 month)? Did I also read somewhere that a part time job cannot be over 80 hours a month regardless of income?

Thank You for your help!

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 20:00 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Cindi (not verified)

Hi Cindi,
1) You would be responsible for informing the SSA about your earnings.
2) If you made over $840 ( minus disability-related expenses) in earned income, that would be counted as a successful trial work month, regardless if it's payroll or comission.
3) After you complete those 9 trial work months, you would be eligible for benefits for every month that you earn less than the $1,170 figure, for 36 months. You would stay eligible for benefits for 60 months, and you would be eligible for Medicare for an additional 93 months.
4) I'm not really sure about the 80 hours a , but if you stay under the income limits, you may not have a change in benefits.

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 09:52 Permalink
Carolyn (not verified)

I am self-employed as a website designer. My business expenses (software, internet, mobile phone) are $200 per month. My chiropractic and therapeutic massage cost, which helps reduce my pain, is $150 per month. Does this mean I can earn $1190 per month rather than $840?

So far, I have only worked 17 hours per month, far fewer than the 43 hours allowed. I have sent my self-employment profit and loss statement, expenses and time sheet every month for a year. I claimed the business expenses but not the health care costs. I made an average of $225 per month but soon I will be much closer to $800 after these expenses.

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 09:18 Permalink
Bryan

In reply to by Carolyn (not verified)

Hi Carolyn,
You may only be able to deduct disability related expenses, however it may be a good idea to contact the SSA regarding this for more information that would be specific to your case.

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:14 Permalink
SM (not verified)

Help! The good news is that I am one of the rare ones who applied for SSDI and was approved the first time and without an attorney's help. The bad news is I am completely lost as what to do now.
Here's some background. I was born with cerebral palsy and worked for 30 years without any government programs/assistance. For the last 12 years, I've been self-employed in a sole proprietorship and did well until my health declined because of medical issues unrelated to but made worse because of the CP. I lost the ability to drive, most of my ability to walk and my anxiety and panic disorder worsened because of the stress of the situation.
I applied for SSDI in June or July 2016 after several months of recuperation following emergency back surgery in January 2016. By that time, my income - which had been quite low for several years - dropped down to about $600 a month; that's what I reported to social security officials and I gave them all the financial documents they requested. Because I work for myself, I don't have paycheck stubs; bank records and tax returns are what I offer when asked.
Anyway, once I submitted the paperwork, provided all the necessary medical records and went to the physicians SS requested I see, I went about my life; working when I could, and continuing physical therapy two or three times each week. During that time, my income after expenses ranged anywhere from $200 per month to $1,400 per month. Obviously, I wasn't living well. No one ever asked about my income during that period, and I don't know if I was supposed to report the couple of months that were over the $810 threshold; my average for the entire year was about $740 per month. Frankly, I didn't worry about it because I thought I would be turned down for disability.
Cut to late February of this year, and I received the approval letter. Yay! SSA determined I became officially disabled in July 2015; I am not sure why they picked that date, except that it is about six months before my emergency back surgery. I received my first payment last month, and I soon will receive a lump sum to cover all of 2016. My case review will be in five to seven years.
It's wonderful news. However, I can't stop working completely quite yet and I would like to do some work here and there - $300 to $400 every few months or so if possible.
Here's what I am confused about:
Did I exhaust some trial work periods during the couple months in that I made more than $810 but didn't know I was approved for benefits? Or do the periods start now?
Also, before I received notice of the approval, some great work came my way and it made my March more lucrative than expected. I will probably still clear less than the $840 threshold for 2017 once all expenses are determined, but it will be close. What should I do, and how do I report the income when I do work given that I don't have pay stubs and it take a while for me to even know if I have reached the threshold?

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 02:44 Permalink

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