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Do you know what a “trial work period” is?

Let’s talk about the typical scenario for a trial work period. You won disability benefits and one year has gone by. Perhaps you had surgery and are feeling better. Maybe you want to try to work again, but you don’t want to lose your disability benefits. Can you go back to work and still receive your disability benefits? That is a great question. And, the answer is yes.

You can try to return to work and still get your disability 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 with an overpayment. An overpayment is when you receiving disability benefits, but you shouldn’t be, and then you have to pay them back to the SSA.

As you know, Social Security Disability benefits are for people who cannot work. So, how can you receive a benefit check and work? That is where the “trial work period” comes in. The SSA encourages people with disabilities to attempt to work if they are on Social Security disability benefits. In order to encourage work attempts, the SSA gives people on disability benefits a “trial work period.”

definition of the word work. for 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. Find out more about SSA’s trial work period here. 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 you earn more than $880 a trial work month. In 2020, a trial work period begins when you earn more than $910 in one month. For 2021, a trial work period will begin when you earn more than $940.  The figures for 2022 allow you to earn up to $970 before a trial work period begins.

If you work for yourself, 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 of confusion 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.


If you cannot work, then Cannon Disability Law can help you apply for SSD and SSI benefits. Also, we can help you appeal an SSA denial. Additionally, we will represent you in court at your disability hearing. We will help you be a witness in your case.

If necessary, we can appeal your case to the Appeals Council. Find out here about your chances at the Appeals Council. Likewise, we file appeals in Federal Court. Also, we can represent you where you live. For example, we can represent you if need a disability attorney in Utah or Nevada. Additionally, we can help you if you live in Idaho, Colorado, or California.

If you are trying to learn about a trial work period, do not confuse it with an “unsuccessful work attempt.” The SSA defines those two things very differently. Learn more about what an unsuccessful work attempt is here. Also, find out more about eligibility for retroactive benefits here.

Your ability to receive Medicaid and Medicare depends upon whether or not you are successful with your disability claim. Learn more about Medicaid benefits here. Go here, if you need to know more information about Medicare benefits.


In order to fight the SSA’s denials, you need a representative with experience. Hire us. Dianna Cannon has been representing people with disabilities for over thirty years. Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have many years of litigation experience. Find out more on our About Us page.

Together, we have won over 20,000 disability hearings. You can trust us. We will do everything we can to win your SSD and SSI benefits. Also, we will help you understand your trial work period.

The main thing you need to remember is once you are on disability benefits, you need to be very careful about trying to work. Most people should only try to return to work if they are fully recovered from their disability.

There are not many severe disabilities from which you can recover. But, it does happen. New treatments and new medications create opportunities for recovering good health. It is also possible for people also recover from severe physical injuries over time. Think about shattering your legs in a car accident.  Due to pain, you may not be able to work for a few years. But, over time, your pain ease and you might be able to work again.

If you do want to attempt a trial work period, make sure you contact your attorney before you start working. Cannon Disability can explain your options to you before you being a trial work period.


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