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 2019 limits.

1. Any month in which you earn less than $880 gross (before taxes), nothing is triggered, and you should get your full benefit.

2. Any month in which you earn more than $880 gross 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. However, if you earn more than $1,220 per month, this is considered substantial gainful activity (SGA). If you earn less than the SGA limit during your Trial Work Period, your benefit will continue after the Trial Work Period. If you earn more than the SGA limit, then after your Trial Work Period, you will enter an Extended Period of Eligibility.

3. Once you use up all nine months of your Trial Work Period, then the $880 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, the $1,220 gross income per month limit is what matters. 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 $1,220, 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. In 2020, the $880 limit goes up to $910, and the $1,220 limit goes up to $1,260.