How The Trial Work Period Operates Under Social Security Disability

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, SSDI beneficiaries are eligible to test their ability to return to work through the Trial Work Period (TWP) program while maintaining their disabled status.

A Trial Work Period consists of nine total months, within a five year (60 months) rolling eligibility term, in which an SSDI beneficiary may earn an unlimited amount of money without negatively impacting their monthly cash benefit.

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.

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 2019, the SGA threshold for beneficiaries is $1220 (or $2040 for blind disability recipients).

Benefits are only distributed if an individual does not surpass the SGA threshold 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 payment of benefits 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.

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. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today via email or call us at (844) 243-4849 or toll-free at 877-794-2396.

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