How Work Affects Your SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has rules and incentives that can help you get a job without having to worry that you’ll lose the benefits you need.

For most people who get SSDI, these work incentives function like a 3-stage process that begins when you get a job:

  1. The Trial Work Period (TWP) lets you work and get benefits at the same time, no matter how much you make.
  2. When the Trial Work Period ends, the 3-year Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) lets you work and get benefits for every month that you earn less than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) ($1,220 in 2019, $2,040 if you’re blind).
  3. For the first 5 years after your EPE ends, Expedited Reinstatement means that if your income drops below the SGA level, you have the option of quickly getting back on SSDI without having to completely reapply.

These 3 incentives mean that you can get a job and see how it goes. If it goes well, you’ll be in a better financial situation than before. If it doesn’t go well, you will be able to get SSDI benefits and be in the same situation as you were before you tried out working.

Trial Work Period

First, Social Security gives every SSDI beneficiary a 9-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, you’ve used up 1 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 9 Trial Work months occurring within a 5-year window. Your 9 Trial Work months may occur consecutively or sporadically within that period of time. The window stays open until you have used up all 9 Trial Work months.

Extended Period of Eligibility

Once you’ve used up all 9 Trial Work months within the 5-year window, your Trial Work Period is over and your 3-year 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 the SGA limit.

If you’re not working above the SGA limit in the 36th month, you will continue to get SSDI cash benefits until you do work above the SGA level or Social Security decides that you have medically improved.

If you have a work goal or are currently working, a Work Incentive Consultant can answer your questions.

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.

Expedited Reinstatement

Expedited Reinstatement is the 3rd major incentive that Social Security has created to encourage people to return to work. It is designed to help former SSDI beneficiaries who have gone back to work and lost their benefits because they used up their Trial Work Period and Extended Period of Eligibility. It allows these people to get up to 6 months of temporary SSDI cash benefits if their income drops below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level.

During those 6 months, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will do a medical review to decide whether or not the beneficiary still meets SSA disability requirements. If Social Security decides the beneficiary is still disabled, they’ll be placed back on benefits without having to reapply for SSDI. If the beneficiary is not found to be disabled, their SSDI benefits will stop.

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

In some cases, it may be beneficial for you to reapply for SSDI benefits rather than using the Expedited Reinstatement work incentive. This will depend upon how long you worked, how much you earned, and what your disability is.

If you have a work goal or are currently working, a Work Incentive Consultant can answer your questions.