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Trial work period and testing my ability to return to work

Recently on our SSDI forum a user asked, “I have been receiving SSDI benefits for several years but I think I want to try to return to work. I am concerned; however, that after I work for awhile I might realize I can’t do it. I was wondering if the SSA has any program which might allow me to test work out but not lose my SSDI benefits? I have heard something about a trial work period but I am not sure what that means.”

Trial work period and testing your ability to work

The Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to make it as simple as possible for disability recipients to return to work. With this in mind, they have developed a program with work incentives which allows recipients to work for a specific period of time without jeopardizing their SSDI payments and medical benefits.

This program is referred to as the Trial Work Program. Under this program, you are allowed a nine month Trial Work Period to work at any level – including hours and income- and decide if you are able to permanently reenter the workforce.

Due to the complexity of the Trial Work Program it is always a good idea to talk to the Social Security Administration BEFORE you start back to work. You can “trigger” a trial work period unintentionally and may end up losing SSDI benefits if you work too long and make too much money.

What is a Trial Work Month?

A Trial Work Month is any month within your Trial Work Period where your earning are greater than $810. Earnings calculated are your gross earnings, and the amount you are allowed to earn is periodically updated by the SSA.

Now, let’s imagine that you decided to go back to work and you earned more than $810. This action will trigger a Trial Work Period. Your Trial Work Period will last for nine months within a 60 month recurring window. It’s important to note that your months do not have to occur one right after the other. So, for example, you could work for a month, take off a month and so on, but if you did this more than 9 months within a 60 month window your Trial Work Period would be over.

What happens after my Trial Work period?

After your Trial Work Period ends, assuming you continue to work, the SSA will not automatically terminate your benefits. Instead, they will allow another period of time called your Extended Period of Eligibility. This can get a bit tricky because during this period you may be allowed to make some money but if your earnings reach what they term “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) level ($1,130 per month in 2016, $1,820 if you’re blind), this will trigger a 3 month grace period.

If your earnings remain above a SGA level for more than three months your benefits will be reduced to zero for any month your countable earnings are above SGA until they are eventually terminated.

What if I cannot work anymore?

Claimants who have lost their SSDI benefits because they returned to work may be allowed to request an expedited reinstatement, assuming it is done within five years from the date their benefits were terminated and the SSA determines they are still disabled.

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