SSI Disability Eligibility: Income Limits

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a disability benefit available to those with very low income and little in assets. Here are the rules on financial eligibility.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program for the disabled, the blind, and the elderly, but it is available only to people with incomes less than a certain amount. The income limit in states that don't pay a supplement to SSI recipients (more on this below) is the SSI federal benefit rate.

What Is the Federal Benefit Rate?

The federal benefit rate (FBR) is the maximum federal payment made to individuals and couples receiving SSI. In 2016, this amount is $733 per month (and most years there is a cost-of-living increase). The amount for couples is $1,100 in 2016. When individuals or couples are approved for SSI, these are the maximum amounts they can receive each month from the federal government.

Many states offer a "state supplement," which increases the monthly SSI payment, and also increases the SSI income limit for that state.

How the Income Limit Works

As mentioned, the FBR is the monthly income limit for SSI, as follows:

  • Those with incomes higher than the FBR (plus the state supplement, if applicable) do not financially qualify for SSI.
  • Those with no income receive the full amount of SSI (the FBR amount).
  • Those with incomes below the FBR but above 0 are financially eligible to receive SSI, but their monthly SSI payment will be reduced by a portion of their income.

Social Security does not consider all income in determining whether you qualify for SSI and the amount of your monthly payments. Social Security considers only "countable income." As a result, you can actually make more than the federal benefit rate and still receive an SSI payment, albeit reduced.

What Kinds of Income Are Not "Countable"?

Social Security does not count all income. For instance, income tax refunds, the value of food stamps, and expenses (such as medical bills or utility bills paid directly by friends or family members), and half of your wages are not countable.

What Will SSA Count As My Income?

SSA will count most earned and unearned income, and even some income that you don't personally earn. For example, SSI recipients who live with a spouse not receiving SSI may have part of their spouse's income counted as their own. This is called "deeming," and it can also occur between children receiving SSI and their parents. The rules regarding deeming are complicated and not all of the spouse's (or parent's) income will be counted.

Another common situation that may reduce the amount of your SSI payment is when you receive free food or shelter from a friend or family member. SSA will reduce your SSI payment by up to one-third in such a situation. This is referred to as "in-kind income".

Note, however, that loans, even those of food and shelter, do not count as income and will not reduce your SSI payment. If you agree in writing to repay your friend or family member the value of the food or shelter, SSA may not reduce your monthly benefit. This contract should be signed by both parties and a copy should be sent to Social Security.

Contact the SSA for Help

Figuring out whether your income falls under the limit is complicated, especially if you live in a state that pays a supplemental benefit. If you're trying to figure out whether you'll qualify for SSI, or whether receiving certain income or gifts will put you over the SSI limit, speak to a field representative at Social Security by calling 800-772-1213.

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