Can I Work and Still Collect SSDI?

By Christina Vidoli

Many Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit recipients would like to try to return to work or work part-time in whatever capacity their disability will allow.  Unfortunately, the common misconception is that once you begin receiving SSDI benefits, you must remain unemployed for fear that working will cause you to lose those benefits. 

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages recipients to at least attempt to work by providing what is a called a “trial work period.”  You can work up to nine months in any five-year period and continue to collect disability benefits.  There is no cap on your earnings during the nine-month trial work period.  In 2011 and 2010, if you earned over $720 in a month, that month counts towards your 9 month limit.  In 2009, the trial work period trigger was $700, in 2008 it was $670, in 2007 it was $670 and in 2006, the trial work period trigger was $620.


After you have used up your nine months, the SSA will look at your earnings on a month by month basis for a 36 month “extended period of eligibility.”

During the extended period, you receive your regular SSDI check if your earnings are not substantial.  “Substantial” earnings in 2011 and 2010 are considered any income over $1,000 ($1,640 for blind persons).  If you earn more than $1,000 in a particular month, you are not eligible for a SSDI check in that month and you will have to pay it back.  On the other hand, if earnings stay below $1,000 without ever going higher, then benefits continue with no time limit, even after the extended period of eligibility ends.


The downside to this is that if you’re able to continue to work and your earnings record shows a pattern of work, you may be subjected to more regular examination by the SSA.  This is known as a continuing disability review (“CDR”).  The law requires the SSA to perform these approximately every three years, unless they determine you have a condition that is expected to improve sooner than that.  Maintaining a job, may prompt the SSA to perform more frequent CDRs. 


At the end of the day, going back to work may subject you to constant reviews, but it may also be well worth it.  Overall, you will feel more fulfilled as a person as you’re taking home more money. 


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