Can I Test My Ability to Work While Receiving SSDI Benefits?

testing ability to work while receiving disability benefitsSome Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) recipients may be hesitant to return to work because they are not sure how it will affect their disability payments. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a trial work period, which is a period to test your ability to work and still be considered disabled.

Below, the Green Bay Social Security Disability lawyers at Sigman Janssen discuss the trial work period in greater detail and what may happen to your SSDI benefits when it ends.

Social Security Disability Trial Work Period

The trial work period is a work incentive that allows for SSDI recipients to re-enter the workforce for at least nine months. During this period, you can continue to collect your full monthly benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report all work activity and remain eligible under SSA regulations.

In 2021, any month that you earn over $940 will be a month of services that will count toward your trial work period. This monthly amount is evaluated by the SSA and is adjusted on an annual basis.  

The months that count toward your trial work period month do not have to be consecutive. Any month in a rolling 60-month (five year) period could count toward your nine months.

What Happens Once the Trial Work Period Ends?

Your SSDI benefits may be affected. Once the trial work period ends after nine months, the SSA will evaluate your earnings to see if you maintained substantial gainful activity (SGA) in those months.

SGA is any earnings at or above a certain threshold. This threshold is assessed by the SSA and is adjusted on an annual basis based on inflation and cost of living changes. For 2021, the SGA threshold is $1,310 a month for non-blind SSDI recipients and $2,190 for blind SSDI recipients.

Should your average earnings meet or exceed the SGA threshold during the trial work period, your SSDI benefits will stop. However, if your average earnings stay lower than the SGA threshold, you will keep receiving your monthly benefits.

Entering an Extended Period of Eligibility

If you continue to receive your SSDI benefits and you can still work after completing the trial work period, you will go into an extended period of eligibility for 36 months.

During this period, you will continue to be eligible for disability payments as long as your monthly earnings do not meet or exceed the SGA threshold.

Otherwise, any month you earn more than the SGA threshold is a month you will not get a disability payment. After completing your extended period of eligibility, if you had even one month above the SGA threshold, the SSA will deem you no longer disabled. Your benefits will be terminated after being paid in full for that month and an additional two-month grace period.

What If My Condition Worsens and I Cannot Work Again?

You may be eligible for expedited reinstatement if it has been five years since you last received SSDI benefits. This applies if your condition worsened making you unable to work again or if your disability benefits were terminated because you started working and earning too much.

Expedited reinstatement allows you to restart your benefits without having to reapply for disability. You can receive your monthly benefits much sooner than going through the entire process all over again.

In order to qualify, you must have stopped working or working as much for the same disability you were originally receiving SSDI benefits for. The SSA in some cases may qualify a closely related disability. Your condition can also not be better than when you initially applied for SSDI. It must be the same or worse.