When you first begin working for yourself while you're receiving Social Security disability benefits, Social Security gives you the chance to try to start your business without losing your benefits. This is called a trial work period (TWP). During the TWP, you won’t lose benefits regardless of your earnings, as long as you report your work to the SSA and you are still disabled.
Your trial work period starts when you begin to work for yourself and perform a significant amount of services. The SSA will find that your services are significant if you earn more than $910 (gross) a month or you work more than 80 in a month for your own business.
Your trial work period will last a total of nine months during a five-year period. The months do not have to be consecutive. A month counts toward the nine-month TWP whenever you work over 80 hours in a month or earn more than $910 (in 2020).
During those nine months, you can make over the SGA amount ($1,260 in 2020) without having it affect your SSDI benefits. At the end of those nine months, if you are still working and Social Security decides that you are performing SGA, the agency will terminate your benefits.
Your Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) begins the month after your TWP ends. The first 36 months of the EPE is called the re-entitlement period. If you are able to do your small business activity or freelance work during this re-entitlement period, your eligibility to receive a monthly SSDI check will be determined on a month-to-month basis. You can still get benefits for any month that your work activity is not at the SGA level. In this case, to determine whether your work activity is considered SGA, Social Security will apply the "Countable Income Test," as discussed in "Can I Start a Small Business and Still Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?"
If your business activity is considered SGA in any month during the re-entitlement period, you won't get benefits for the month; however, your benefits can be re-started without a new application if your income becomes unsubstantial or your work activity falls below the SGA level. In this case, Social Security will evaluate your work under the “Three Tests” (discussed above) to decide if your benefits can restart.
After your re-entitlement period has ended, your benefits will stop if your self-employment rises to the SGA level again. You will have to apply for disability benefits again if you stop working for yourself because of your disability.
For more information on the amount of self-employment work you can do, see our article on working for yourself while collecting Social Security disability benefits. For more information on the trial work period or EPE, see our article on starting to work while on SSDI.
Updated December 30, 2019