Many recipients of Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) are reluctant to seek employment because they are uncertain as to how working will affect their disability payments. Their hesitation is understandable, yet Social Security has outlined specific rules that allow people to continue receiving their benefit while attempting to work part-time and in some instances full-time. Knowing the rules before accepting employment will help ensure that you do not risk losing your benefit.

A Trial Work Period (TWP) is intended to allow SSDI recipients to try working while still receiving their monthly benefit. It is comprised of a total of nine months that are not necessarily consecutive, over a 60-month period. During this time, a person may earn an unlimited amount without lowering their monthly benefit. This trial period was established many years ago as a way to encourage those who receive disability to go back to work when they can.

A TWP month is defined as a month in which a person earns more than $780 or when a self-employed individual works 80 hours or more.

All monthly earnings before taxes apply to the $780 TWP threshold, but a person can deduct impairment-related work expenses that are paid out-of-pocket. These expenses include but are not limited to, service animal costs, medical supplies or job coaching. It’s important to keep receipts of any impairment-related expense so that Social Security can total your earnings correctly.

It is also important to keep in mind that your local Social Security office should be notified of your earnings for each month you work while receiving benefits. It is best to mail a certified letter with a copy of all pay stubs and any impairment-related work expenses by the 10th of the month following the month in which you work.

Often, people are concerned that a TWP could lead to benefits being discontinued once Social Security conducts a Continuing Disability Review (CDR). But keep in mind that CDRs are generally conducted randomly. While it is possible for a CDR to occur during a TWP, a TWP by itself is not likely to raise a red flag with Social Security.

Once the nine-month TWP has ended an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins. The EPE is a 36-month period during which a person can continue to receive the full SSA benefit as long as they remain disabled and earn less than the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold. When the 36-month re-entitlement period ends, benefits can continue as long as the person is medically disabled and does not earn more than the SGA.

Understanding the differing guidelines for working while receiving Social Security disability benefits can be complicated. Making sure you maintain the monthly benefit is essential. Consulting with an experienced Social Security disability attorney may help ensure you stay within the guidelines for working.

If you or a family member have questions concerning working and Social Security benefits please contact Disability Associates for more information.