The Social Security Administration allows you to try to return to work while on disability if your monthly earnings remain below the income threshold for the average monthly SSDI income. This period of being able to work while on disability insurance, can last for 9 months within a 5 years' period and is known as Trial Work Period.
What is Trial Work Period?
A Trial Work Period (TWP) is a long stretch of 9 months' period of time, within a 5 year timeline, during which you can return to work (keeping under SGA) and still continue receiving disability benefits. So, for instance, if you return to work in 2020 during your SSDI benefits' period, and earn $840 per month from your TWP, then that one month will be considered as one among the 9 months of your trial work period.
Note that since this is only a grace period given by the SSA for claimants wanting to return to the work force, you are only allowed to earn below the substantial income and for a limited time only. If your condition becomes better or if you start to earn above the substantial income, then you will no longer be considered disabled by the SSA. This article discussed more on these rules for the trial work period for SSDI below.
Rules for the Trial Work Period for SSDI
During the first nine months that you start to work after being considered as unemployed and living on SSDI only, you will continue to receive your SSDI benefits, even if your work more than the amount that Social Security considers as the Substantial Amount or the threshold amount under Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Read more about Substantial Gainful Activity here. For the year 2020, the threshold monthly income under the SGA is $1260, to be precise. This means you can work and earn a gross monthly income of $1260, for 9 months over a five year period and still be considered as disabled by the SSA, hence also receiving your monthly SSDI checks all the while. However, once the 9 months' TWP is over, if you continue to earn equal to or above the SGA income threshold, your benefits will automatically stop.
While the SGA is the most common tell tale sign of whether or not you would be considered disabled once the TWP is over, there are various other rules set by the SSA for the TWP too. For once, you're automatically entitled to a nine months 'trial work period'- however, most people don't know that a month in which they decide to work but earn a gross income of below $910 (for 2020) will not be counted as a trial work month. Moreover, a month will also not be counted as a trial work month if a) you're self-employed AND b) if you work for less than 80 hours per month.
With that said, another lesser known fact about the trial work period is that your trial work months need not be consecutive, so you can choose to work and earn while taking breaks of weeks or months as long as your trial months lie within a five-year period.
Now, once you have utilized all the nine months of your trial work period during any five-year period of being on SSDI, you are no longer entitled to another five-year trial work period. However, this rule has an exception and that is i) if your SSDI benefits had ended due to working AND ii) you ultimately won SSDI benefits again due to a returning condition or impairment by filing a new SSDI application OR iii) you became entitled to SSDI benefits again through 'expedited reinstatement'.
Another exception to the five-year trial work period is if you had not completed your nine month trial work period during any five-year period, you might be able to get another set of nine trial work months down the road. This is due to the fact that trial work months outside a five year period are not counted in addition to the trial months in that five year period. Hence, your entitlement to nine months of trial work may start over winning you additional trial work months down the road.
Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)
In addition, if your disability benefits had stopped for a period of time, but you applied for 'expedited reinstatement of benefits' and became eligible for SSDI benefits again, then you're eligible for a new trial work period. However, the new trial work period will only come into effect after 24 months of your being on new SSDI benefits has passed. Read more about the extended period of eligibility here.
If you need help in navigating for a trial work period, need to file an application for expedited reinstatement or file an appeal for your SSDI benefits, you can contact our Social Security Attorneys here.