What happens to my disability benefits after my trial work period has ended?
After an individual is approved for Social Security Disability benefits, he or she may attempt to return to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has provided a trial work period for those receiving disability benefits as incentive to return to work.
The trial work period lasts for a total of nine months. During a trial work period, you will continue to receive Social Security Disability (SSD) payments as usual. Only at the expiration of that trial work period may your benefits potentially be affected.
It is important to note that a trial work period consists of nine months in total, but only those months in which you earn more than $940 per month count toward the trial work period. This amount is reviewed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and adjusted each year. Therefore, you should check the financial limits before engaging in any type of work.
You should also understand that the months that count toward a trial work period do not need to be consecutive. This means any month in a rolling 60-month calendar, which is what the SSA uses for calculating trial work periods, will potentially be counted toward your nine months.
After the Trial Work Period
After the nine month trial work period has ended, the SSA will review your earnings record to determine if you were able to maintain Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) during that time. This is essentially a determination of whether or not the work you performed earned you a gainful living.
SGA is defined by the SSA as any earnings at or above a certain threshold. That threshold is evaluated and potentially adjusted annually to account for inflation and changes in the cost of living. The 2021 SGA threshold is set at $1,350 per month for a non-blind, single recipient of SSD benefits.
If your average earnings during your trial work period hits or exceeds that SGA threshold, then your SSD benefits will be terminated by the SSA. If however, your earnings during your trial work period remain below the SGA threshold, then your benefits will continue.
Extended Period of Eligibility
If your benefits continue and you are still able to work, then you will enter what is known as an extended period of eligibility (EPE). During this period, which lasts for 36 months following the completion of your initial trial work period, you will remain eligible for SSD payments. During the EPE though, the amount of your monthly earned income will determine whether or not you receive a disability check each month.
In other words, during the 36 months following the completion of your trial work period, any month in which your earnings hit or exceed the SGA threshold is a month in which you will not receive an SSD payment. Any month in which your earned income is below that threshold, you will receive an SSD check as usual.
The first month that follows the end of your 36-month EPE in which you earn at or above the SGA will mean your SSD benefit eligibility ends. If for example, you exceed the SGA in month 37, then you will no longer receive SSD benefits, even if the following month you do not hit the SGA.
If you become disabled again following the expiration of your EPE, you can apply for expedited reinstatement of benefits, as long as it has been less than five years since you were receiving SSD benefits before. If it’s been more than five years since you were last on SSD, then you must submit a new application for disability benefits if you become disabled again.