Despite widespread belief to the contrary, individuals receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) from the Social Security Administration (SSA), are eligible to test their ability to return to work without jeopardizing their benefits.
This program, overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is known as a Trial Work Period (TWP).
Originally developed as a collection of special rules to incentivize SSDI beneficiaries to return to work, the TWP allows recipients to re-enter the workforce while continuing to collect full monthly benefits associated with their SSA program.
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) Trial Work Period
According to Social Security Administration regulations, those who receive social security disability benefits are eligible to test their ability to return to work through the Trial Work Period (TWP) program while maintaining their disabled status. The Trial Work Period is a Work Incentive allowing you to test your ability to work for at least nine months while still receiving SSDI benefits.
A Trial Work Period consists of nine total months, within a five year (60 month period) rolling eligibility term, in which an SSDI beneficiary may earn an unlimited amount of money without negatively impacting their monthly cash benefit.
Additionally, the Trial Work Period does not have to consist of nine consecutive months. They may be spread out over the five year period.
SSDI Trial Work Period Eligibility & Earnings
All SSDI beneficiaries are eligible for a Trial Work Period (TWP) so long as they:
- Received 24 months of payable benefits, known as an Initial Reinstatement Period (IRP)
- Have not previously participated in a TWP
- Report all work activity and wages to the Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Remain eligible for Disability Benefits under SSA Regulations
Because TWP months are not required to be consecutive (nine total months in a five-year period), eligible months are determined by an SSA trigger known as the Trial Work Level (TWL). The TWL trigger is calculated annually based on the national average wage index and adjusted for national wage growth.
TWL earnings are an individual’s total earnings in a month, prior to tax deductions. In 2019, the net earnings trigger for TWP months is $880; meaning, any month in which an SSDI beneficiary earns $880 or more, that month is counted towards their Trial Work Period.
For example, if an individual on SSDI attempts to return to work in the months of January, February and March of 2019, and earns $890, $575, and $1020 respectively, only 2 of their 9 TWP months are used.
Impairment-related expenses, such as medical supplies and service animal costs, can be deducted from monthly earnings prior to applying the TWL trigger. In addition to monthly earnings, self-employed participants are also subject to an 80 hours worked per month TWL trigger. If you are self-employed, any month during which you work over 80 hours or have net earnings from self-employment (NESE) over $850 counts toward your TWP.
How Many Trial Work Periods Can You Have?
SSDI Trial Work Periods are automatically triggered by reported earnings and do not require an actual enrollment process. It is important to keep track of and report all earnings to the SSA, as individuals are only eligible for one Trial Work Period.
What Happens If You Have to Stop Working After Beginning a Trial Work Period?
If an individual does not complete all 9 TWL eligible months of a TWP within five years, following the conclusion of the 60-month rolling eligibility period, they may be entitled to a new TWP. If an individual loses SSDI eligibility and is subsequently reinstated, they will be allowed a new TWP after meeting all Social Security eligibility guidelines.
Trial Work Period Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)
After completion of a Trial Work Period, individuals enter a 36-month long Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE), in which they continue to receive full SSDI benefits so long as they remain disabled and earn less than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold set annually by the SSA.
- In 2020, the SGA level for beneficiaries is $1,260 (or $2110 for blind disability recipients).
- In 2021, the SGA level for beneficiaries will be $1,310 (or $2,190 for blind disability recipients).
Benefits are only distributed if an individual does not surpass the SGA amount for that month during their EPE. If an individual earns an amount above the threshold for any month during their EPE, SSDI benefits will not be provided for that month.
After completing the EPE, if an individual had even one month in which they earned above the SGA threshold, their SSDI benefits will be terminated following full disability payment for the current month (plus two additional grace period months).
However, if an individual never breaks the SGA threshold during the 36-month EPE, their benefits will continue.
For example, in an individual begins an EPE in January 2016, and earns $1250 or more in 10 out of the 26 months, he/she will receive SSDI benefits for 26 of those months, and will no longer be eligible for SSDI at the end of January 2019.
About Expedited Reinstatement
After your nine-month trial work period is up, you will not be entitled to another trial work period. However, you are eligible to submit new application for SSDI benefits or get expedited reinstatement. Expedited reinstatement lets you restart benefits without having to file a new application. This enables you to get benefits much faster than if you go through the process again.
The SSA states that you are eligible for expedited reinstatement if you:
- Stopped receiving benefits because of earnings from work,
- Are unable to work or perform substantial gainful activity,
- Are disabled because of an impairment(s) that is the same as or related to the impairment(s) that allowed you to get benefits earlier, and
- Make the request within 5 years from the month your disability benefits ended.
Additionally, if you use fewer than nine months of your trial work period during any five-year period, you may be able to get another nine month trial work period without having to reapply. Trial work periods from
However, if you use fewer than nine trial work months during any five-year period, you might be able to get another set of nine trial work months down the road. Trial work months more than five years old are no longer counted, so your entitlement to nine months of trial work may start over, and you may end up getting more than nine trial work months.
In addition, if your disability benefits stopped for a period, but you applied for expedited reinstatement (see below) and became eligible for SSDI benefits again, you are eligible for a new trial work period 24 months after your disability benefits are reinstated.
Questions About SSDI Trial Work Periods?
The highly qualified team of Social Security disability attorneys at Krasno, Krasno, & Onwudinjo is here to answer all of your Social Security Disability and Trial Work Period questions. Schedule your free consultation today if you’re confused about how social security disability insurance works or have questions about any of the requirements and benefits.
To get started, contact us today via email or call us at (844) 243-4849 or toll-free at 877-794-2396.