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What Is The Social Security Disability 5 Year Rule?

Social Security Disability (SSD) is one of those programs everyone hopes they never have to become familiar with. If you are studying how Social Security Disability benefits work, it usually means that you or someone you love suffered a serious illness or injury.

But it’s hard for someone suffering from a disability to learn all they need to know quickly. We at London Disability have extensive experience getting our clients their full Social Security benefits, and we know about every rule, regulation, and all the exceptions to the rules. In this blog post, we’ll explain a special provision of the Social Security program called the “5-year Rule” that few people know about.

What Is the 5-Year Rule in Social Security?

Social Security’s 5-Year Rule has to do with people who are fortunate enough to recover from their disability and return to work, only to find out later that they are unable to sustain the rigors of the employment they’ve attempted.

While it may seem rare that someone would be so severely impaired that they qualify for Social Security Disability and yet still recover sufficiently to return to work, it happens more often than you might think.

The Social Security Administration defines a qualified “disability” as follows:

A disability is a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that lasts or is expected to last 12 months or longer (or results in death) and prevents the person from performing substantial gainful activities.

Keep in mind that Social Security Disability benefit payments are reserved for people suffering from “long-term” disabilities. The term “permanent” is often used to describe the impairments that afflict Social Security Disability, benefit recipients. However, to qualify for SSD benefits, a qualifying impairment must last 12 months.

In many tragic cases, the disability is truly permanent and never improves. But other people with qualifying disabilities do recover enough over a long period of time to allow them to try to go back to work.

Disability Benefits Continue Through the “Trial Work Period”

Under the old, outdated Social Security Disability program, the government discovered that people whose disability was improving were fearful of trying to return to work because they would lose their SSD benefits.

If they found that they were unable to succeed back at work, they would need to reapply for SSD benefits, and they thought their attempt to return to work would be held against them. They were afraid the Social Security Administration would claim that their disability must have been largely healed since the workers felt capable of working.

But the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants people to try to go back to work. The government wants to reserve its Social Security Trust fund assets for those people whose disability remains severe. They do not want to continue paying benefits if a benefits recipient is well enough to try working again.

To encourage disabled workers to at least try to work if they feel they are up to it, the SSA established the Trial Work Period (TWP) program.

The TWP provides that a person receiving SSD payments can return to work and earn an unlimited amount of income and still continue to receive their full SSD benefit for nine months. The months do not have to be consecutive. A person can try working for a couple of months and then take a break, if necessary, before resuming several months later. The nine months must be used within a period of five years. Any month during which a TWP disability recipient earns at least $1,050 (in 2023) is considered one of the nine months under the TWP program.

Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE) Beyond Nine Month Trial Work Period

When an SSD benefits recipient completes their Trial Work Period and continues to work, their monthly SSD benefits payments will stop. However, for the next 36 months, if the worker’s monthly income falls beneath the SSD income limit, Social Security will pay their full benefit.


Getting Benefits Reinstated within 5 Years from the Date Benefits Payments Stopped

If, at any time, within five years of your benefits being stopped, your income again falls beneath the level the SSA sets as “substantial gainful activities,” you can resume your monthly SSD benefits without needing to reapply.

Your benefits will be reinstated.

All About Encouraging SSD Recipients to Try Working Again

The Social Security Administration’s Disability programs are designed to help workers who paid taxes into the system get the financial support they need when they need it.

But when SSD recipients think they might be able to earn income, the SSA wants to support that effort as well. The Trial Work Period, Extended Eligibility Period, and the 5-Year Rule were all created to provide assurance to SSD recipients that their benefits were safe and retrievable if they chose to attempt a return to work. For more information on any of these subjects, contact London Disability Advocates today.

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