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Why Social Security disability claimants should keep income below the “trial work period services” amount

Under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) trial work period rules, you may earn any amount of money per month for nine months and still receive full monthly disability benefits. This trial work period allows you to test your ability to return to full-time work without interrupting your monthly disability benefits. For example, you could work full-time for eight months, receive pay for full-time work, and still receive your Social Security disability benefits. If you decide that you cannot continue working at the end of eight months, your on-going disability benefits remain unaffected. You can keep your benefits so long as you don’t medically improve.

However, people sometimes use up their entire trial work period by working part-time. For example, some people work part-time while their claims are pending, and are surprised to learn that they exhausted their trial work period months even before their disability determination. If your income exceeds the trial work period monthly amount (which was $720 per month in 2010) for nine months at any time since you applied for benefits, even if those nine months are not consecutive, you will have exhausted your trial work period.

Non-consecutive trial work period months all count as long as all nine months are in any five-year period. Once you use up your nine-month trial work period, you will never have it again.

Those who do exhaust their nine-month trial work period by working part-time are often surprised when the SSA abruptly stops sending checks. For example, if you used up your trial work period and subsequently hold a full-time job for eight months, your benefits will be stopped after only three months of work. You may be able to recover your disability benefits if you stop working within three years after you used up your nine trial work period months.

But if you work again at the substantial gainful activity level more than three years after you used up your trial work period, the SSA should stop your benefits within the first month of work. If you’re unable to continue working more than three years after the end of the trial work period, you’ll have more difficulty getting your benefits back.

Our advice is to not exhaust your trial work period until you are ready to return to full-time work. Because the trial work period is so valuable, we recommend not using it for part-time work. And to avoid wasting your trial work period, we suggest keeping your monthly income below the trial work period services amount.

This can be a complicated area of law. Call the experienced Chambersburg Social Security disability attorneys at Black & Davison for more information.