Returning to Work After Social Security Disability Leave: What to Expect

Posted by Scott Flexer on Dec 19 2019

Returning to work after a disability

You never thought you’d say it, but you’re actually beginning to miss the daily grind; you definitely miss the water cooler gossip. 

After a period of time out of the workforce, you may be thinking about returning to work after long term disability or short term disability. But you may also worry that finding work after disability will endanger your SSDI, SSI, Medicare or other benefits. And if you ultimately decide you’re not returning to work after short term disability, will you have to go through the whole Social Security Disability process again? Because it was a chore the first time around.

Working on the Sly

Some benefit-recipients, fearing the loss of their benefits, have tried returning to work after Social Security disability by taking on jobs without notifying the state. This almost never ends well.

Unless you’re being paid under-the-table (a practice which can still get you busted by an anonymous tipster), this is not going to work in your favor. Social Security will eventually find out that you’re finding work after disability because your employer will report earnings to the IRS against your individual Social Security number.

The consequences of being discovered for unreported work aren’t pretty:

So—considering working and not reporting it? Don’t do it. It’s just not worth it, unless you’re looking for a one-step process for how to get off disability benefits.

Returning to Work After Social Security Disability

Most people who are receiving Social Security disability and working part-time report their situation to the Social Security Administration (SSA). This is the best option for returning to work after Social Security disability. Why? Because the SSA knows not everyone attempting to return to work will be up to the task. The SSA allows for a Social Security disability return to work trial (as many as nine months) before terminating your benefits.

Thanks to the SSA’s Ticket to Work program, you’ll continue to receive your benefit payments in addition to your work paycheck. But before you start counting all that money up, you should know that your benefits will be adjusted based on the amount you earn by finding work after disability.

If you ultimately decide that returning to work after Social Security disability is more than you can handle, you can discontinue working and keep receiving disability. If you decide you’re unable to work due to the same disability after the Social Security disability return to work trial has ended, you usually will be able to get back on disability without having to reapply.

So either way, informing the SSA about finding work after disability and reporting any income received is a win-win.

Finding Work After Disability Can Be Rewarding

If you’re actually not enthusiastic about going back to work after long-term disability, it can be in your best interest from a financial standpoint. Here’s why:

  • The first $85 you earn each month is disregarded—that’s all yours.
  • Only half of your income is deducted from your disability benefits.

Consider this example of returning to work after Social Security disability: If you earned $1085, the first $85 is untouched. Then, the remaining $1000 would be split between you and the SSA. So, you’d earn $585 plus your disability benefits.

It’s important to note that if you return to work as part of a Social Security disability return to work trial and don’t see a reduction in your benefits, don’t spend it with reckless abandon. Instead, put the extra money aside. This isn’t a “bonus,” and it’s likely that the SSA will eventually discover the error and you’ll need to repay it at some point. And there’s nothing worse than owning money you don’t have.

Work Incentive Programs

The SSA offers many resources to show people how to get off disability benefits; that’s less money they have to pay out (total SSDI benefits to 8.5 million recipients amounted to $144 billion in 2018). To assist in your goal of returning to work after long term disability, the SSA developed Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) programs, including the following:

  • Earned Income Exclusion
  • Blind Work Expenses
  • Student Earned Income Exclusion
  • Plan to Achieve Self-Support
  • Property Essential to Self-Support
  • Continued Medicaid Eligibility
  • Continued Payment Under a Vocational Rehab Program
  • Ticket to Work

WIPA helps benefit-recipients through career development and job placement. WIPA’s Community Work Incentive Coordinators, or CWICs, will work with you so that you’re able to make better decisions when returning to work after Social Security disability; they can also recommend opportunities that provide accommodations for your particular disability.

Don’t be afraid of finding work after disability. If you follow the law and keep the SSA informed of your situation, they will work with you to keep the benefit payments coming while you test the work waters once again during a Social Security disability return to work trial period.

2019 COLA Social Security Benefits

Topics: Social Security Disability Income, Disability benefits in Florida, working with disability benefits

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