How Trial Work Periods Affect Social Security Disability Benefits

No one likes to feel helpless. We likely all learned how to be self sufficient as quickly as possible. From learning to walk, to riding a bike, to going off to college, most people chase that dream of being free and independent. However, sometimes life gets in the way of being completely independent. Accidents happen to everyone. Maybe you always assumed that that “everyone” would always be someone other than yourself. It is rough to go from being on your own to suddenly having to depend on another person. Perhaps you were injured at work or in a recreational activity or even a car accident or experienced some other life-altering incident. Whatever the case may be, you have had some difficulty in being able to work, possibly for a long period of time.

The natural thing to do would be to apply for social security disability benefits. Social Security Disability insurance will pay “benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are “insured,” meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.” If you have ever been employed in your life, you have paid into the FICA, or Federal Insurance Contributions. You may have seen it listed in the taxes taken out of your paychecks. If this is the case, you qualify for these benefits. There are other options if you have not. But we are here to focus on working with a disability and working while receiving benefits.

It is possible to try and go back to work while still receiving benefits. An individual may work for up to 9 months (does not have to be consecutive) while still receiving disability benefits. This is the longest trial period allowed within a 60 month period. Once those 9 months have been used, the individual is ineligible for benefits for five years unless there are extenuating circumstances. Then they may reapply for benefits with a new application.

During those 9 consecutive, or nonconsecutive months, a person may be testing out his or her ability to return to work despite their disability. At the end of the 9 months trial work period, or TWP, an evaluation will be made to determine if “you can work at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level.” This means that you are able to work sufficiently on your own to sustain yourself and no longer require disability benefits. If your attempt to work is unsuccessful, known as an UWA, those trial months will not count toward your total of 9 months allotted for your TWP.

In conclusion: your trial work period is 9 months long (not necessarily consecutive). You may still receive disability benefits during that time. If you can work at a high enough level to support yourself during this time, this is considered a successful trial work period month and counts toward your 9 month trial period. If you fall below the “substantial gainful activity level” during any given month during your trial work period, that month will not count toward your 9 month allotment.

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