If you work while you are collecting disability benefits, special rules apply:
Trial work period – you can work up to 9 months in any five year period and continue to collect disability benefits. There is no cap on your earnings during the 9 month trial work period. However earnings over a specific amount in a particular month will cause that month to count at a trial work period month. If you earn more than $720 in a month in 2012, 2011 or 2010, that month counts as a trial work period month. If you earned less than $720, that month would not count towards your 9 month limit. In 2009, the trial work period trigger was $700, and in 2008 it was $670. In 2007, the trial work period trigger was $640, and in 2006, the trial work period trigger was $620.
Extended Period of Eligibility. After you have used up your nine months of trial work , Social Security looks at your earnings on a month by month basis for a 36 month “extended period of eligibility.” During the extended period of eligibility, you receive your regular SSDI check if your earnings are not “substantial.” If your earnings are “substantial” you are not eligible for a check in that month. How much is “substantial?”
2012- $1010 per month
2011- $1,000 per month
2010 – $1,000 per month
2009- $980 per month
2008- $940 per month
2007 – $900 per month
2006 – $860 per month
If you earn more than the above limits for a particular month, you will be asked to repay Social Security for any disability benefits received during that month. SSA will literally review your earnings month by month – if you exceed the limit for a particular month, you will have to pay it back.
In addition, if your earnings record shows a pattern of work, SSA will likely review your case to determine whether benefits should be stopped. This is called a “continuing disability review” and is an eligibility issue rather than a money issue, although the two often go hand in hand.
Note that special rules apply for blind disability claimants – a blind person can earn more money before his earnings are deemed “substantial.”
Here is a link to SSA’s web page about work incentives.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.