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How does work affect my Title II benefit?

Part 2: Work Phases

Social Security created periods of time (phases) when you can try out work without the risk of losing eligibility for Title II, even if you work at or above Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). These work phases are:

Following the EPE, you enter the Post-Extended Period of Eligibility (Post EPE), where you can continue to receive your Title II benefit until you work at the SGA level.

Quick Tip

If you receive more than one type of Title II benefit check, you will get a separate TWP, EPE, and Post-EPE for each benefit.

If you are not sure which work phase you are currently in, we highly recommend you speak with a Benefits Planner to understand where you are in relation to these work phases.

Phase 1: Trial Work Period (TWP)

Once you are eligible for a Title II benefit, when you first start working, you begin your Trial Work Period. This is a phase where you can work, earn any amount, and keep your cash benefit. Substantial Gainful Activity is not considered during the TWP.

Each year, Social Security identifies a monthly Trial Work Period amount. In 2024, the amount is $1,110. Social Security will compare the monthly gross earnings you RECEIVE in a month to this amount. If your gross earnings are greater than the TWP amount, you will have earned one “TWP month.”

If you are self-employed, working more than 80 hours in a month will also count as one TWP month.

Social Security looks at earnings during the TWP differently than when they are looking at SGA. Work incentives are not considered during the TWP, and there is not a separate TWP amount for people who experience blindness.

Once you earn over the TWP amount 9 times in a 5-year period, you complete your Trial Work Period.

Important details:

Think of the TWP as a room. After you earn over the TWP amount 9 times, you leave the room and close the door. The door behind you is now locked. You cannot re-enter the TWP room unless you later lose your benefits and become re-eligible again.

Leaving the TWP room is an accomplishment! It shows that you have been able to work at a certain level for 9 months.

Phase 2: Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

Beginning the first month after you leave the TWP, you enter the Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). This phase lasts for exactly 36 months.

During the EPE, Social Security compares your countable monthly earnings to SGA each month. In 2024, SGA is measured as $1,550, or $2,590 if blindness is your disability on record with Social Security.

Think of the EPE working like a light switch.

  • If you do not work at SGA, the light switch is flipped on, and you receive a Title II benefit check. 
  • If you work at or above SGA, the light switch is temporarily switched off, and you are not eligible for a check in that month.

Important

Visit Part 1: Substantial Gainful Activity to learn about SGA and countable monthly earnings.

There are two exceptions to this month-to-month review of SGA.

The first month you work at SGA is called your “Cessation Month.”  During this month and the following two months, you’ll receive a Title II benefit check, no matter your earnings. This three-month period is called your “Cessation Month and Grace Period.” You can only use one of these periods unless you lose your Title II benefits eligibility and become eligible again.

Before your Cessation Month, Social Security can average your monthly earnings over time.  If this average is below SGA, Social Security may not consider you to have worked at SGA during that period, even if you worked at SGA for one or more months. After your Cessation Month, Social Security no longer averages your monthly earnings. 

Averaging rules are complex. If your earnings are close to or sometimes go over SGA, talk to a Benefits Planner or Social Security to see if Averaging might apply.

Phase 3: Post-Extended Period of Eligibility (Post-EPE)

Once you complete your 36-month EPE, you enter the Post-EPE.

During the Post-EPE, you continue to receive your Title II benefit on a month-to-month basis. Social Security will continue to look at your countable monthly earnings to decide if you are working at SGA.

The first month you work at SGA, your benefits are terminated. If you have not yet used your three-month Cessation Month and Grace Period, you can use it in the Post-EPE. After that three-month period, your benefits will be terminated.

You may continue to receive Medicare for several years after your Title II benefits are terminated.

Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits

If you stop working at SGA within 5 years of your Title II benefits being terminated, you can ask for an Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits (EXR). With EXR, you can ask for your benefits to be reinstated without having to complete a new application.

If you are found re-eligible for Title II through the EXR, you will first enter an Initial Reinstatement Period. This starts the first month you are eligible to receive a cash benefit. During this period, SGA is considered each month. If you perform SGA in a month, your benefits will be terminated (until you become eligible for benefits again through the EXR or a new application.)

After you receive EXR payments for 24 months (which do not need to be consecutive), you complete the Initial Reinstatement Period, and you become eligible for a new Trial Work Period (TWP) and Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE).

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