Understanding the SSDI Trial Work Period
Not everyone who receives disability needs it permanently. If you find your health has improved and you’d like to go back to work, the SSA has an option called the Social Security Disability Trial Work Period.
Here’s how it works, who needs it, and what to do if it doesn’t go as planned.
Disability Benefits When You Get Better
People often think of disability as a permanent state, but that’s not the case at all.
Whether you suffer from a chronic illness or temporary injury, your disability can change over time. People’s injuries heal and flare up. A problem that doesn’t affect your work at all for decades might eventually require serious surgery. In some cases, even chronic illnesses get better for years before coming back later.
What’s more, businesses are becoming more and more accommodating for people with disabilities. You may find a job you think could work with your disability, but you just aren’t sure until you try it out.
Health issues most often look like peaks and valleys. And so does your income when dealing with those health issues. As a result, Social Security Disability Insurance has to be somewhat flexible to people’s changing needs.
That’s why the SSA offers the SSDI Trial Work Period.
How the Social Security Disability Trial Period Works
A Social Security Disability trial work period is a government program meant to encourage people to work when they’re able.
In general, you have to make below a certain amount every month to receive SSDI. This is usually critical to receiving your benefits. However, a trial work period allows you to test out your options. For 9 months over a 5-year period (60 months), you can earn any amount of income and still receive your SSDI payments.
For 2022*, the SSA considers a “month” in your trial work period to be any month where you earn more than $970 before taxes. If you’re self-employed, they also include any month where you work more than 80 hours total, even if you make less than the income limit.
*The exact income and hourly numbers can change every year, so always check with the SSA first to make sure you’re in compliance.
The 9 months don’t have to be consecutive. So just as an example, let’s say you and your doctor decide you’re well enough to take a part-time desk job with flexible hours. In your first month, you make $1000. Then in the next month, you have a flare-up and work fewer hours, so you only make $600. And then you earn $1000 again for your third month.
The SSA will consider the first and third month part of your trial months. You’ll have 7 more months to go in your trial.
Keep in mind the trial gives you a 5-year window. So in the example above, your first month back at work in the part-time job would trigger the beginning of your 5 years. If you decide not to remain at the job, you can use those other 7 trial months at any time for five more years.
You don’t have to enroll in a trial work period. The SSA keeps track of your earnings: as part of receiving disability, you report your wages and self-employment work activity to them every month.
Can I Be Punished for Using a Trial Work Period?
If you trigger a trial work period, you won’t be fined or anything. However, you may eventually lose your disability benefits.
Once you’ve spent the 9 months of your trial work period, you go into an “extended period of eligibility.” This lasts for 36 consecutive months (3 years). During this time, the SSA will monitor your work and earnings. For those 36 months, they pay SSDI benefits only when you make below the income limits.
If you earn above the limits when your three years are up, you lose eligibility.
A word of caution: if you make a very large sum of money during these trial months, the SSA will likely flag it and want more information. SSDI is for people who can’t make an income or keep a job because of their disability—it’s not for people who can make their income off of large amounts of money every few months.
What If I Need Disability Again and I’m Denied?
Let’s say you lose your disability after your trial work period because of your income. Just because you can work right now doesn’t mean you won’t get worse down the road. In that situation, you may worry you’ll have to reapply all over again.
For 5 years, the SSDI offers something called “expedited reinstatement.” You can request this if you have to stop working because of the same disability you had when you first received SSDI. If you get this, you don’t have to file a new application from scratch.
However, these get denied. And sometimes your initial disability isn’t what keeps you from working later, so you do have to reapply, and you might get denied for any number of reasons, just like a usual SSDI application.
If you apply for SSDI after a Social Security Disability trial work period and they deny your request, get an attorney. Just like with any SSDI application, you have 60 days to appeal, and there’s no time to waste.
Our Memphis SSDI attorneys can help you build a successful appeal. We will look at what’s missing from your application, build your case, and defend you to the SSA. We don’t get paid a penny unless you do, and even then it’s limited to a small amount from your past-due benefits. You keep all your benefits moving forward.
With only 60 days to appeal, don’t wait to get started. Call us today at 901-327-2100 or use the form below.