How Work Affects Your SSDI

Social Security wants to encourage people on SSDI to return to work. So SSDI has designed their program rules and work incentives to make it easier for people to do just that.

Trial Work Period

Social Security gives every person on SSDI a nine-month Trial Work Period to test the waters and decide if they’re able to re-enter (or more fully enter) the workforce. During your Trial Work Period, you can work and earn any level of income and continue to get your full SSDI benefits.

Trial Work Month

A Trial Work Month is any month within your Trial Work Period that your gross earnings are greater than $880 (in 2019).

If you earn more than $880 in a month, you’ve used up one Trial Work month. If you earn less than $880, you haven’t. Either way, you continue to get full SSDI benefits.

Your Trial Work Period consists of nine Trial Work months occurring within a 60-month window. Your nine Trial Work months can occur one right after the other or spread out over time. The window stays open until you have used up all nine Trial Work months.

During your Trial Work Period, you can work and earn any level of income and continue to get your full SSDI benefit.

Extended Period of Eligibility

Once you’ve used up all nine Trial Work months within the 60-month window, your Trial Work Period is over and your 36-month Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins.

During your EPE, you will continue to get SSDI benefits as long as your countable earnings are not above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level ($1,220 per month in 2019, $2,040 if you’re blind).

The first time Social Security decides you have had a pattern of countable earnings over SGA, you will get a 3-month Grace Period. During that time, you will continue getting SSDI cash benefits regardless of your wages. After your Grace Period ends, your SSDI benefits will be zero in any month your countable earnings are above SGA.

If you’re not earning above SGA in the 36th month, you will continue to get an SSDI cash benefit until you do earn above SGA or Social Security decides that you have medically improved.

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Impairment Related Work Expenses and Wage Subsidies

Social Security knows you may have additional disability-related expenses when you return to work. If you have any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs), you should talk with your Social Security representative to see if these expenses can be deducted from your gross earnings.

You should also talk to your Social Security representative if you have a job coach or get other special assistance to help you do your job. Social Security may consider this to be a wage subsidy and allow you to deduct it from your earnings as well.

Social Security rules allow you to deduct the value of IRWEs and wage subsidies after your Trial Work Period. In some cases, doing so may cause your monthly earnings to drop below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level and allow you to keep your SSDI benefits.

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Expedited Reinstatement

Expedited Reinstatement is another work incentive that Social Security has created to encourage people to return to work. It is designed to help people who used to get SSDI and have gone back to work and lost their benefits because they used up their Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility. It allows you to get up to six months of temporary SSDI cash benefits if your income drops below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.

During those six months, Social Security (SSA) will conduct a medical review to figure out whether or not the you still meet SSA disability requirements. If Social Security determines that you are still disabled, you'll be placed back on benefits without having to reapply for SSDI. If you are not found to be disabled, your SSDI benefit will stop.

To be eligible for Expedited Reinstatement, you must request that your benefits be restarted within 5 years of when your benefits ended.

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