Ben at a winter market in Europe

Ask Ben: Will I Lose My SSDI if I Keep Working?

In Ben Spec, Benefits and Employment Articles, Featured, News by Ben Spec

Hello from Prague! I’m enjoying a visit to the beautiful capitol of the Czech Republic (the museums are incredible). After the heat of Zambia, the snow and ice here is refreshing…but I am enjoying the warmth of the coffee shops and theaters. It’s so cozy to be inside sipping my coffee, watching the snow fall on the sidewalks, and writing to Georgia in Sun Prairie, WI about SSDI.

Dear Ben,

I’ve received SSDI for several years and returned to work 6 months ago. I have used 5 months of my Trial Work Period. I have been earning a steady monthly gross income of $900 per month and plan to continue to work at the same pace. It’s my understanding that I can work  for at least 9 months but then may lose my benefits. Is that true?

Georgia
Sun Prairie, WI


Dear Georgia,

Thanks for writing! I’ve been busy travelling the world, but it’s always good to hear from Wisconsin! And, I have good news for you: earning $900 per month will not stop your SSDI payment!

Now that you have the bottom line, I’ll explain how this works for all SSDI beneficiaries…

Trial Work Period

SSDI beneficiaries get 9 Trial Work Period months. During the Trial Work Period, you are eligible for your SSDI payment no matter how much you earn:

  • The 9 months do not have to be used in a row.
  • The Trial Work Period ends when you have used 9 months in a 5 year period.
  • A month counts as a Trial Work Period month in 2017 if you earn $840 or more in gross earnings ($850 in 2018).
  • Social Security always looks at your gross wages, before taxes or other deductions.

You only get one Trial Work Period – and some beneficiaries used it years ago without knowing it. So, it is important to ask Social Security if you have your Trial Work Period when you go back to work.

Substantial Gainful Activity

After you have used all 9 Trial Work Period months, Social Security uses a standard called Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA.  Your countable earnings are compared to the SGA amount to determine if you are eligible for an SSDI payment.  In 2017, the SGA amount is $1170 ($1180 in 2018). This amount changes every year, so always check with Social Security for the current SGA. You will be entitled to your SSDI payment for the first month that your work is SGA, and the following two “grace” months.  Then, your cash payment will stop if you have earnings above SGA.

Work incentives can reduce the amount of gross wages that Social Security counts when deciding if your earnings are SGA.  I won’t go into those now – I will just say that you can have gross wages above SGA and still be entitled to an SSDI payment.  And for three straight years after the Trial Work Period ends, SSDI payments can start again any month that earnings are less than SGA.

Now, back to summarizing your situation, Georgia…
Your Trial Work Period will end after 9 months on your job. But at your current level of earnings, your benefits will continue as long as you have a disability.

Check Back to Learn about Work Incentives!

Be sure to get back in touch if your earnings are going to increase near the SGA level. That will be a good time to learn more about the work incentives safety net that follows the Trial Work Period.   I hope this gives you the information you need to decide what you want to do.

Greetings from Prague,

Ben

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