The Trial Work Period (TWP) in Social Security Disability Claims

English: In the United States, Social Security...

English: In the United States, Social Security benefits by gender and wage levels. According to author Joseph Fried, this graphic uses information from: C. Eugene Steuerle and Adam Carasso, “The USA Today Lifetime Social Security and Medicare Benefits Calculator,” (Urban Institute, October 1, 2004), from: Note: The calculator does not include the value or cost of the Social Security disability program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     Social Security Disability beneficiaries often wonder about returning to work while receiving cash benefits.  The trial work period (TWP) “is a period during which you may test your ability to work and still be considered disabled.”  20 CFR § 404.1592.  A trial work period can last up to nine months, but the months do not necessarily have to be consecutive.  In 2012, monthly work earning $720.00 or more per month or self-employment of 40 hours or more are considered “services” countable as trial work against the nine-month total.  Work performed at a lower level should not be counted as TWP months.    

     “Services” are any activity (whether legal or illegal) that is done in employment or self-employment for pay or profit, or is the kind normally done for pay or profit.  Work done without remuneration is not generally considered services if it is done merely as therapy or training or if it is work usually done in a daily routine around the house or in self-care.  Also, work done as a volunteer in the federal programs describes in section 404.1574(d) in determining whether claimant has performed services in the trial work period.

     For employed individuals, one should consult the Social Security Administration’s website for a chart on the amount of earnings considered to be TWP for any given year.  For self-employed individuals,SSA will consider activities as a self-employed person to be services if:

  • Before January 1, 2002, the net earnings in a month were more than the amount(s) indicated in Table 2 of this section for the year(s) in which the individual worked, or the hours worked in the business in a month are more than the number of hours per month indicated in Table 2 for the years.
  • Beginning January 1, 2002, work more than 80 hours a month in the business, or net earnings in a month are more than an amount determined for each calendar year to be the larger of:
    • Such amount for the previous year, or
    • An amount adjusted for national wage growth, calculated by multiplying $530 by the ratio of the national average wage index for the year 2 calendar years before the year for which the amount is being calculated to the national average wage index for 1999. SSA will then round the resulting amount to the next higher multiple of $10 where such amount is a multiple of $5 but not of $10 and to the nearest multiple of $10 in any other case.

Table 2—For the Self-Employed

For months

Your net earnings are more than

Or you work in the business more than

In calendar years before 1979 $50 15 hours.
In calendar years 1979-1989 75 15 hours.
In calendar years 1990-2000 200 40 hours.
In calendar year 2001 530 80 hours.

     In order to have a TWP, the claimant must have established a period of disability, must be eligible to receive benefits (cannot begin during the five-month waiting period), and the must continue to be medically disabled.  Once the TWP has ended, if the claimant continues to earn wages at SGA, then disability benefits will be cut off.  If the individual continues to be medically disabled, he is eligible for an extended period of eligibility if the earnings fall below SGA. 

     Claimants can seek or claim a TWP prior to a finding of disability though it is never a guaranteed finding.  The claimant will have to prove that when he returned to work his impairment was expected to last 12 consecutive months.  In Tepfer v. Sec. of HHS, the court created a retrospective TWP for a claimant who worked from 1984 to 1986 but was determined disabled from 1983 until the end of his TWP in 1985, and found to be again disabled when he ceased work in 1986.  The court rejected SSA’s argument that only an individual who is receiving benefits is entitled to a TWP and decided that while a claimant must be entitled to benefit before a TWP can start, he does not have to be receiving benefits at the time.  Tepfer v. Sec. of HHS, 712 F.Supp. 156 (WD Ark. 1989). 

     The SSA may also use the evidence of the return to work as a basis for finding the claimant’s impairment are not severe or that work exists at Step 5 of the sequential process.  See 20 CFR §404.1527. 

     Additionally, the claimant can have only one TWP during a period of entitlement to cash benefits.  20 CFR § 404.1592. 

     If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI matter, personal injury matter (car wreck, boating accident, slip and fall, etc.), EEOICPA claim, long or short-term disability, VA disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser for a free case evaluation.  We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611, through Facebook, or through our website.  Our office handles claims throughout East Tennessee, including Knoxville, ChattanoogaKingsport, Bristol, Johnson City, Morristown, Maryville, Rogersville, Dandridge, Tazewell, New Tazewell, Jefferson City, Strawberry Plains, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Loudon, Kingston, Halls, Maynardville, Crossville, Cookeville, Jamestown, Sweetwater, Lenoir City, Athens, Oak Ridge, Clinton, LaFollette, Lake City, Jacksboro, Bean Station, Cosby, Newport, White Pine, Mosheim, Wartburg, Sunbright, Pigeon Forge, and Deer Lodge.


About farmerdreiser

Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, The Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser provide comprehensive representation to injured victims throughout eastern Tennessee in personal injury, Social Security disability, and workers' compensation cases.
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