How much can you earn if you’re receiving SSD?
(Column: Ask the Attorney)
SSD Rules for Working: A complicated topic made more understandable
Jeanette Zelhof, Esq.
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A recipient of Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can work and earn money, but those earnings may affect continued eligibility for SSD benefits.

Recipients of SSD are entitled to test their ability to work and earn up to a statutory amount for nine months, without losing benefits or having eligibility questioned. This is called the “trial work period.” During this time, Social Security will count each month in which an SSD recipient earns more than $620 per month in gross earnings as a “trial work” month. In calculating the nine months of gross earnings over $620, look to any nine months in a 60-month (five-year) period. The months do not need to be consecutive. Any month within a five-year rolling period in which more than $620 gross is earned will count toward the trial work period. Any month where the recipient earns less than $620 does not count toward the trial work period

Question: What happens after a person has earned more than $620 for nine months in a 60-month rolling period?

Answer: At the end of this 9-month trial work period, an extended period of eligibility begins for 36 months (three years). SSA considers the first three months of the 36-month period a “grace period,” and one will receive SSD benefits in those three months. Afterward, you lose your SSD cash benefits though you are still eligible for them despite not receiving them. These 36 months run consecutively. Still, a person can request payment of SSD benefits for any month in which countable wages are below $860. This extended period of eligibility is meant to ensure that a person who attempts to work and become self-sufficient will have a cushion if work activity ceases for any reason.

If a person’s loses SSD benefits as a result of completing the trial work period, Medicare Part A coverage will continue for at least 93 months after the 9-month trial work period. After that, one can purchase the coverage by paying a monthly premium.

If you are going to try to work and reap the benefits of the trial work period, you must keep accurate records of earnings and dates of earnings. An advocate can show you how. You should immediately report in-person to the Social Security Administration when you have completed your 9-month trial work period. Otherwise, it can take Social Security years before learning that the trial work period has been exhausted. You will then be subject to collection, which can be taken from your tax returns and, ultimately, from your retirement benefits.

Advocates in the field report many cases where SSD recipients engaged in trial work, notified Social Security by telephone, but nothing was done. They continued to collect SSD benefits because they thought they were entitled. Years later they were subjected to overpayments and recoupment, which were devastating to their economic circumstances.

Remember, Social Security is a huge bureaucracy that processes enormous amounts of information. So be prepared to be your own advocate by keeping clear and accurate records, and taking personal responsibility to ensure that SSD benefits cease at the right time.
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