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Working while receiving Social Security Disability benefits

Navigating the Social Security Administration can be difficult, especially when you are receiving disability benefits (SSD, SSI or both). A common misconception is that you cannot work while receiving Social Security Disability benefits. To the contrary, working while you are receiving Social Security Disability benefits allows you to explore new areas of opportunity and test whether you are physically and/or mentally able to return to work (substantially gainful employment).

Working during a Trial Work Period (TWP)

Working in a Trial Work Period should not be discounted due to the common misconception that you cannot work while receiving disability. However there are several considerations during the Trial Work Period involving the amount the disabled individual earns and during which months that determine when the Trial Work Period ends and its impact on benefits.

For SSI disability recipients within the Trial Work Period, work may affect the amount of monthly cash benefits but still entitle you to receive other SSI disability program benefits such as Medicaid. If your earnings are low enough you may still qualify for some monthly cash benefit.

For SSD recipients within the Trial Work Period, work will not affect the monthly cash benefit now matter how much you earn as long as the work activity has been reported and you continue have a disabling condition. However the amount you earn in the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) does have an impact on your SSDI monthly cash benefit amount.

The information below focuses on work during the Trial Work Period for those receiving SSD benefits.

Working and Receiving SSD

First, the Social Security Administration allows a "trial period" of working, for at least nine months. This period gives you the freedom to test whether you can work with your disabling condition(s) and test your work activity to ensure that your new-found employment is the right fit for you. This trial period also encompasses "self-employment." There are no limits on how much you can earn during this period, and you will not be penalized as being successfully and gainfully employed.

Second, the Social Security Administration also offers an "extended period of eligibility" intended to extend up to 36 months after your "trial work period." SSA may start and pay benefits for a month or months during this extended period when the individual’s monthly earnings are less than the “substantial earnings” amount, defined by SSA in 2012 as $1,010 per month (for non-blind individuals). This period is intended to give disabled individuals a safety net to support themselves. Notably, no new application or disability is necessary to take advantage of this extended period.

It is worth noting the Social Security Administration does take disability-related expenses into account when determining your earnings. For example, you may deduct part of your transportation or prescription drug costs related to your disability from your earnings. These deductions are intended to ensure that disabled individuals are not penalized for costs related to their disability. It is important to contact the Social Security Administration for all potential deductions so that you do not miss an opportunity to report your earnings as accurately as possible.

The Social Security Administration also offers individuals the opportunity to submit a plan to achieve self-support, and will take additional deductions into account if they fall within the approved plan for reducing your dependence on disability payments. Special deductions are also available for students who are disabled or people who are blind.

Lastly, Medicare coverage can continue for most people with disabilities who return to work for at least 93 consecutive months of Hospital (Part A); Supplemental Medical Insurance (Part B), if enrolled; and Prescription Drug coverage (Part D), if enrolled, after the 9-month Trial Work Period. Individuals do not pay a premium for Part A. Although cash benefits may cease due to work, the individual has the assurance of continued health insurance. (93 months is 7 years and 9 months.) This coverage can significantly offset costs for medical insurance you might otherwise acquire by being employed or self-employed. This ensures that disabled people can be gainfully employed for the better part of a decade without having to fear a loss of medical insurance coverage.

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