Career Connection: Can You Still Receive Social Security Disability Benefits if you are Working from Home?

Photograph of Shelly Goldman

By Guest Blogger Shelly Goldman, Career Coach, Executive Recruiter and President of Goldman Group Advantage

Most people might be surprised to know that special rules make it possible for people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments. While it might sound questionable, it actually makes perfect sense. Why punish someone who is interested in trying to go back to work? If they did, no one would ever be encouraged to try!

To assist people with disabilities in returning to the workforce, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has developed a number of work incentives planning and assistance programs designed to provide people with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. An important element in exploring your ability to work and earn an income is what we will discuss in this article, the trial work period.

Trial Work Period:

A trial work period is a period in which a person receiving Social Security disability benefits may test his or her ability to work and still be considered disabled. During the trial work period, you can receive your full Social Security benefits regardless of where you work or how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity to SSA and continue to have a disabling impairment.

SSA does not consider services performed during the trial work period as showing that your disability has ended until services have been performed in at least nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month period.

What triggers the trial work period? Your earnings. For every month that you earn more than the predetermined amount, you are considered to be in the trial work period. For 2012, a trial work month is any month in which your total earnings are more than $720. If you are self-employed, a trial work period is any month you earn more than $720 (after expenses) or work more than 80 hours in your own business.

Keep in mind that this dollar amount can change year-to-year. The amount you are allowed to earn per month during your trial period is annually assessed and determined, based on the SSA’s cost-of-living adjustments.

Extended Period of Eligibility:

Once your employment exceeds the 60-month period, you have 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not considered to be “substantial.” In 2012, the SSA generally considers earnings over $1,010 ($1,690 if you are blind) to be substantial. No new application or disability decision is needed for you to receive a Social Security disability benefit during this period. If your earnings exceed the determined dollar amount, you may be considered capable of performing substantial gainful activity, which will affect your benefits.

Some Advice:

The rules and regulations of SSID and SSI can certainly be confusing! As there are always exceptions and new updates and changes to consider, we recommend you always confirm any information you receive from other sources with SSA.

You’ll also want to keep them informed of any changes to your work situation and/or employment. If you receive Social Security due to a disability, they will want to know promptly:

  • When you start or stop work.
  • Changes in your duties, hours or pay.
  • If you start paying expenses for work due to your disability.

You can report changes in your work activity by phone, mail or in person at your local Social Security office.

You’ll need to be able to provide evidence that you reported your earnings. It’s advisable to fax or mail a copy of your paycheck stub to your local SSA office. If you mail your information, sending your paycheck stub by certified mail or return receipt requested is a good idea, as it provides evidence that you mailed the information and it was received. For more information, visit www.ssa.gov or call SSA’s toll free help line at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday – Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Community Resources:

Want more assistance? There are also a number of community-based organizations who specialize in providing information and work incentives planning and assistance to people who are receiving Social Security or SSI disability benefits and are working or considering work. Take advantage of these valuable resources! Work incentive coordinators can help you understand how work affects your benefits and explain what other federal, state and local supports there are for people with disabilities who want to work.

To locate the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) project nearest you, call 1-866-968-7842 (TTY 1-866-833-2967). You also can find a list of Service Providers on the SSA website at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/oesp/providers.nsf/bystate.  

Shelly Goldman has more than 20 years of successful, diverse experience as a career coach, career management agent and executive search consultant offering guidance and support services customized to each client. She is a Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP), Credentialed Career Master (CCM) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC). Prior to founding The Goldman Group, Shelly served as a Vice President of Training and Recruiting for a national food service organization.

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