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You won disability benefits and one year has gone by. Perhaps you are feeling better and want to try to work again. Can you go back to work and still receive disability benefits? This is a great question and the answer is yes. You can try to return to work and still get benefits. However, your “trial work period” will begin if you try to go back to work. It is important to know how a trial period works so you don’t end up receiving disability benefits and then, have to pay them back to the SSA.

Social Security Disability benefits are for people who cannot work. So, how can you receive them and still work? The SSA encourages people with disabilities to attempt to work if they are on disability benefits. In order to encourage work attempts, the SSA gives people on disability benefits what is called a “trial work period.”


A trial work period is a nine-month period of time, during a 5 year period, where you try to “work” and still receive disability benefits. Remember, the SSA gives work a specific definition. You are working or doing “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) if you make more than $1,220 per month in 2019 ($2,040 if you’re blind).  If you try to return to work in 2019, and you earn more than $880 gross, the SSA considers that month one of your nine trial work period months.

For 2019, the SSA considers any month where a person earns more than $880 a trial work month. If you are self-employed, any month where you work more than 80 hours can also count toward your 9 month trial work period. It is important to know when the months you work count as part of your trial work period. If you think you can go back to work, do it. Just know, if you are receiving disability payments, you must report any work to the SSA.  Additionally, be very careful to not incur an overpayment by receiving benefits when your trial work period ends.


You have 9 months, in a 5 year period, to earn over the SGA amount and still receive full disability benefits. Those 9 months can be consecutive or not. The way people get in trouble with the trial work period is they work for 3 months and then don’t work again for 2 years. Then, they try another 3-month stint. One year later, they work for 5 months and those three work attempts add up to 11 months. Therefore, they should not get benefits after the 9th work month. So, during the last 5-month work attempt, they became ineligible for benefits. If they work again and are still on benefits, they will incur an overpayment.


If you complete the 9 month trial work period,  you can still receive disability benefits for any month where your earnings fall below the SGA level, for a 36 month period. This 36 month period is called the extended period of eligibility. In other words, if you earn less than $1,220 in any month, you will get benefits, but if you earn more than $1,220 in any month, you won’t get disability benefits for that month.

Please don’t rely on the SSA to inform you that your trial work period is over. Often, people keep working and because they get a disability check, they think everything is fine. But the SSA makes mistakes. Even if you report your income to the SSA every month, it is possible for the SSA to make a mistake. They might send you a disability check by mistake. If this happens, you will still have an overpayment, even if you didn’t make a mistake and the SSA did.


Following your trial work period, if you stop working again due to your disability, you can be put back on disability benefits. The SSA gives you five years where your benefits can be reinstated if your disability stops you from working. During the five-year period, the SSA will not require you to file a new disability application to get benefits. This is called expedited reinstatement.

In conclusion, there are many things to consider if you want to try to work once you are on disability benefits. The main thing you want to avoid is an overpayment. No one wants to pay back money to the SSA that they don’t have. Unfortunately, overpayments happen a lot. They happen because people get confused about trial work periods, extended eligibility, and expedited reinstatement. It is important to get good advice before you make any decision about returning to work. You have questions, we have answers. Call or contact Cannon Disability Law for help with your benefits.

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