Trial Work Period for Social Security disability, explained

Disabled man at work

The rules for a Trial Work Period can be complicated. Here is a simplified summary of what happens when you are already receiving Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, and want to try to return to work. The amounts below are based on the 2023 limits.

1. Any month in which you earn less than $1,050 gross (before taxes), nothing is triggered, and you should get your full benefit.

2. Any month in which you earn more than $1,050 gross (or working 80 hours or more per month in self-employment) will count as one month of a Trial Work Period. You get nine months total in a 60-month period, and they do not have to be consecutive. During a Trial Work Period month, you still get your benefit, no matter how much you earn.

3. Once you use up all nine months of your Trial Work Period, then the $1,050 limit no longer matters. At that point you enter an Extended Period of Eligibility, which lasts for 36 months after the last month of your Trial Work Period. During this time, a new limit applies: $1,470 gross income per month. This is the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount. If you go over it, then you do not get your benefit for that month. If you are under it, you do get your benefit.

4. After the 36 months of your Extended Period of Eligibility is up, then if you have even one month where you go over $1,470 gross income per month, your benefits will stop for good, even if in a future month you go under the limit again. However, for another five years, you are eligible for expedited reinstatement, so if you stop working you can restart your benefits without going through the full application process.

5. Both of the amounts change every year.