What is a Social Security Trial Period?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is designed to help you get up financially when you are no longer able to work due to a medical condition. But if your health improves, you may feel ready to go back to work. A trial period (TWP) gives you the opportunity to test the water without losing your benefits.

A TWP is one of many work incentives the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers to help people return to work after a period of disability. These serve as a kind of safeguard for SSDI beneficiaries to see if they can work consistently over time.

You may work and collect SSDI, but the SSA sets strict limits on how much you can earn. Benefits can end if you concern yourself with what Social Security is considering “significant profitable activity” (SGA). In 2021, the SGA limit will be $1,310 per month, $2,190 per month for the statutory blind. (The limits are adjusted annually to reflect national wage developments; in 2022 they will increase to $1,350 and $2,260, respectively.)

But Social Security recognizes that people who collect SSDI may experience fluctuations in their health, or find workplace adjustments that encourage them to try working again. A TWP gives you nine months over a five-year period in which you can earn any amount of income and still receive your SSDI payments.

How it works

Social Security counts one calendar month toward your probationary period if you earn more than $940 pre-tax. (It will be $970 in 2022.) If you’re self-employed, working more than 80 hours per month counts as a TWP month of service, even if you don’t exceed the income threshold.

The nine months do not have to be consecutive. For example, say you get a part-time job after a year on SSDI. You earn $1,000 the first month, $800 each of the following three months, and $1,000 again after that. Social Security assumes that you have used up two of your nine trial months.

You do not have to register for a TWP. Instead, Social Security tracks your months of service when you report your wages or self-employment, as is required for disabled beneficiaries. The TWP ends as soon as you have built up nine months of service within a rolling period of 60 months, or when social security determines that you are no longer disabled.

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