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SSDI: Return to Work Guidelines

Steps To Take If You Return To Work While Receiving Income From SSDI

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Keep track of your Trial Work Months as you use them.

Social Security is slow to process income data, so your Trial Work Months may expire well before Social Security realizes it. If they keep sending you payments after the expiration of your Trial Work Period, plus the three extra months to which you are entitled, Social Security will want that money back. If you remain aware of this situation and set the extra money aside, repayment won't be so painful. If you put the money into an interest bearing account, you may even earn a little money since Social Security doesn't charge interest on repayments.

Track and report all earnings, regardless of amount, that have payroll taxes deducted.

A simple way to do this is to keep all of your payroll check stubs, or a photocopy of your pay checks -- no matter how small or large.

Your countable income for purposes of determining whether there is a work month can be reduced by any or all of the following:

  • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE): Expenses that help you work, but for which you are not reimbursed. For a list of expenses for employees to include, see the Social Security Work Activity Report, Form SSA-821-BK. For self employed people, see the form SSA-820-BK. A simple chart to help you keep track of these expenses is included. To learn more, see: IRWE.
  • A "Subsidy": The money you receive beyond what your services are worth. To learn more, see: Subsidy.
  • Money put into a "PASS" Plan: A plan that you create, subject to Social Security's approval, that will help you reenter the workforce and become self-supporting, for example, money to let you open a restaurant. To learn more, see: PASS.

If your earnings vary, provide Social Security pay stubs. Also let Social Security know if you earn money one month, but receive it another month.

Even though you work, if your earnings are below Trial Work Period or Substantial Gainful Activity levels ($720 and $1,000 respectively in 2010), the month is not counted as a trial work month, which means you get to preserve it for future use. This is important because every Trial Work Period month you don't use is a month during which you can collect your full SSDI benefit check and earn as much as you can as well.

If you don't provide pay stubs, Social Security will simply divide reported quarterly earnings by three and then compare those gross earnings to the Trial Work Period and Substantial Gainful Actity levels to compute your Trial Work Period and the Extended Period of Eligiblity during which you might also receive an SSDI check. If your income varies, such as due to time off, overtime, the ups and downs of hours worked and even the varying days and months on which pay periods end and paychecks are issued, you may hve months counted as Trial Work months which shouldn't be counted.

Likewise if you receive a check in one month for work performed in another month, the month that should count is the month in which the money was earned - not the month in which you received the pay.

Totaling your earnings month-by-month is what is called for in federal regulation. (20CFR404.1592(b) says that, for SSDI purposes, wages are counted when actually earned -- not necessarily in the same month in which the pay check is issued.

Also be aware that if earnings are sufficient to be considered a Trial Work Month, they don't count if they occur during an Unsuccessful Work Attempt that lasts less than 6 months and ends because of reasons related to the disability. For example, because of health problems or accommodations are no longer available. If there is resistance to this argument from Social Security representatives, refer them to the following policy documents: 20CFR404.1574(a)(1), 20CFR416.974(a)(1), POMS DI 11010.210 and SSR 84-25.

If your return is not successful, tell Social Security right away and see: SSDI: If Your Return To Work Is Not Successful.

Additional Information about work can be obtained at: offsite link.

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