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Working while on Social Security Disability Insurance

If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and want to return to work, Social Security provides work incentive programs that allow you to keep receiving your benefits for a trial period. But the rules are complex.

Here are some rules you need to know about followed by some examples.

(Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rules are different. Call 1-800-772-1213 for more information.)

When you return to work, you must report any income to Social Security. Peter Komlos-Hrobsky, Managing Attorney for Colorado Legal Services, advises that you take your pay stubs to your local Social Security to have copies stamped for confirmation.

Your income helps to determine whether you will continue to qualify for disability benefits. The following income limits are for 2010.

If you earn less than the Trial Work Period Limit (TWP), which is $720 per month for 2010, your benefits will not be affected but you should report your earnings to Social Security.

The TWP allows you to test your ability to work for at least 9 months while you receive full SSDI benefits no matter how high your earnings are, as long as you report your work activity and you continue to have a disabling impairment.

The TWP continues until you accumulate 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you earn more than TWP Limit ($720 for 2010) within a five-year period.

An Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins after you have completed your Trial Work Period.

The EPE continues for three years, during which benefits are paid for months your earnings are less than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), currently $1000/month, but not paid for months your earnings exceed SGA.

If you earn more than $1000 per month and your work is comparable to the work of others without disability you are presumed to be performing SGA. To be eligible for disability benefits, you must be unable to perform SGA.

You may deduct work-related expenses, such as transportation or medications related to your disability, from your earnings amount. There may be special circumstances that exclude you from this limitation.

But for each month your earnings exceed SGA, you will not receive your SSDI payment. However, if your earnings drop below SGA and you are still within the EPE, your SSDI will restart without a new application. Work-related expenses may be deducted. (See previous paragraph.)

If your earnings exceed SGA after the EPE, eligibility ends and a new application is required if the individual stops working.

Examples

Susan begins a part-time job and earns $750 per month.
She continues to receive her SSDI payments until she has worked for more than nine months. At this point, her TWP has been used up and her EPA begins. However, her earnings, although more than TWP limit, are still below SGA, so her benefits will continue indefinitely.

Jane takes a job earning $1,200 per month.
She will be eligible for benefits through the nine months of her TWP. However, after she has used up her TWP, her EPE will start and her benefits will stop unless she can show that medical expenses or other circumstances bring her earnings below SGA.

An Unsuccessful Work Attempt occurs if you stopped working or reduced your earnings below SGA within six months because of your impairment.

John works for five months at $1,200 per month, and has to quit his job because his illness worsens.
If he was in his TWP, those months would just be five TWP months and he will receive his benefits during that time. If he was in his EPE, his benefits would stop. But when he quit his job because of his illness, he would be able to say it was an unsuccessful work attempt and his benefits would resume.

Will my case be reviewed if I return to work?
Social Security will periodically review your disability case, whether you are working or not, to see if your condition has medically improved or if you can perform SGA. If so, your benefits will end. If you have been receiving SSDI benefits for at least 24 months, they will not conduct a review just because you are working.  But, typically, if you are earning more than $1000 per month, your case will be reviewed.

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