Social Security disability and returning to work

Social Security encourages you to try to go back to work to see if you can do it. A Trial Work Period (TWP) lets you work and still be considered disabled by Social Security.

A beneficiary receiving Social Security disability benefits may test his or her ability to work and still be considered disabled. We do not consider services performed during the trial work period as showing that the disability has ended until services have been performed in at least 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month period.

To sum up, a Trial Work Period lets you work and still be considered disabled by Social Security.  Not only that, but Social Security does not count all the months you work, just the ones where you earn more than a threshold Trial Work Period amount:

  • 2015  –  $780 per month.
  • 2014  –  $770 per month.
  • 2013  –  $750 per month.
  • 2012  –  $720 per month.
  • 2011  –  $720 per month.
  • 2010  –  $720 per month.
  • 2009  –  $700 per month.
  • 2008  –  $690 per month.
  • 2007  –  $630 per month.

However, a Trial Work Period only applies in Disability Insurance Benefit claims under Social Security.  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims do not get a Trial Work Period. In other words, if you are only getting SSI, you do not get the 9 months to see if you can work while still being considered disabled by Social Security.  If you are on SSI and return to work, a different set of rules apply.

Also, Trial Work Periods only apply after you have been found disabled. If you return to work while you are applying for benefits, you cannot use a Trial Work Period to excuse Substantial Gainful Activity level earnings. However, there are other exceptions which may apply.

How the Trial Work Period works:

  1. If you earn less than the Trial Work Period amount, you can work and still be disabled.  Your earnings do not trigger a Trial Work Period.
  2. You can work up to 9 months and earn the Trial Work Period amount, or more, without losing your disability status or your benefits.
  3. The nine months do not have to be consecutive.  You might earn $1,000 in January, but only $400 in February and March, and then $1,100 in April.  January and April count as 2 of your 9 TWP months, but February and March do not.
  4. If your gross income is more than the Trial Work Period amount for longer than 9 months (within a rolling 60 month – aka 5 year – period) Social Security will re-evaluate your case and may stop your disability status and stop your benefits.

But, what if I use up my 9 month Trial Work Period, my benefits stop, and then in the 10th month, something happens and I can’t work?

Am I back to square one?

Do I have to reapply for benefits?

Social Security has a safety net.  After the 9 month Trial Work Period, you may get a 36 month re-entitlement period, or “Extended Period of Eligibility” (EPE). During the Extended Period of Eligibility, Social Security may continue your benefits in any month that your gross earnings are not at the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.

How long do you have to complete the 9 month Trial Work Period?

If you worked 1 month a year, could it take you 9 years to complete a Trial Work Period?

Actually, there is a rolling 60 month (5 year) window in which Social Security looks for the 9 Trial Work Period months. According to Social Security, “The trial work period continues until you have completed nine trial work months within a 60-month period.”

That means you can actually have more than 9 Trial Work Period months in total, so long as you do not exceed 9 TWP months in a 60 month period.

For more information about Trial Work Periods, check out the Trial Work Period regulation: § 404.1592. The trial work period.

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  • Jodylogic

    In the above article, it says:
    “That means you can actually have more than 9 Trial Work Period months in total, so long as you do not exceed 9 TWP months in a 6 month period.”
    *You mistakenly wrote 6 month period, correction: 60 month period!

    • http://planet10tech.com/ TomaszStasiuk

      Absolutely right. Thank you for catching that. Want to be my copy editor? 

  • Dale

    I really feel Social Security should do much more with this. Gainful jobs are hard to come by but they are exponentially harder to come by if you are disabled. If a person is able to find a job that is within the criteria that they can work with being diasabled that is awesome but there is no guarantee that the job will last or that they could find another in a reasonable amount of time. If because of my disabilty it takes me years to find a job where the hours and work environment is accomidating to my disability, I still have to question taking it because I know if that after a year(or maybe several) that job disappears, I am back to a minimum of a year without income. If a person is permamently disabled there should be programs that will subsidize a person’s income up to their current disability payment if they attempt to work and that guarantees they can fall back on their disability payment if the job they find disappears.

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  • JLo


    I am disabled. I completed the nine month, work trial period and continued to work for almost 60 months (5 years).

    I was diagnosed with cancer and my Social Security Disability was reinstated. I went through radiation, chemotherapy, and major surgery. I have been on disability for two years now but I feel good enough that I want to return to work. I know there is a big difference between want and can.

    Do I start a new work trial period? If not, does Social Security offer some type of cushion just in case I can’t return to work?

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