If you are like most people, you would rather work than try to live on disability benefits. SSA offers work incentives that help you keep your benefits while you test your ability to work.
First, SSA has created something called a “trial work period.” The trial work period allows you to test your ability to go back to work for at least nine months. During your trial work period, you will receive your full Social Security benefits regardless of how much you are earning, as long as you report your work activity and you continue to have a disabling impairment. In 2015, a trial work month was any month in which your total earnings were over $750, or, if you are self-employed, you earn more than $750 (after expenses) or work more than 80 hours in your own business. The trial work period continues until you have worked nine months within a 60-month period.
Second, after your trial work period ends, you have a 36-month “extended period of eligibility,” during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month in which your earnings fall below SGA level. In 2015 this amount is $1,090 ($1,820 for blind people). During the extended period of eligibility, a new application is not necessary to get your disability benefit.
If you lose your job during the 9-month trial work period, your benefits are not affected. If you lose your job during the 36-month extended period of eligibility, you can call SSA and they will reinstate your benefits as long as you are still disabled.
Third, if your benefits stop because of substantial earnings, you have five years to ask SSA to restart your benefits if you are unable to keep working above SGA level because of your condition. You don’t have to file a new application or wait for your benefits to restart while SSA reviews your medical condition. This is called “expedited reinstatement.”
Fourth, if you return to work, you may have to pay for certain items and services for which people without disabilities do not pay. For example, because of your medical condition, you may need to take a taxi to work instead of public transportation. You may also need a personal attendant, a job coach, or specialized equipment such as a wheelchair. SSA may allow you to deduct these expenses from your gross income in determining whether your earnings exceed the SGA level.
Remember, if you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, you are required to immediately report to SSA if you start or stop work; your duties, hours, and pay changes; and whether you started paying work expenses because of your disability. You can report these work changes by phone, mail or in person. However, we strongly advise that you keep written proof of your reporting in case later on SSA claims you failed to report.
There are special rules for SSI. If you are receiving SSI and then go back to work, your earnings will reduce the amount of your payment (perhaps to zero). You may continue to receive at least some disability payments until your earnings, added with any other income, exceed the SSI income limits.