Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program benefiting seniors and disabled people (both children and adults) whose incomes fall below a certain amount. The income limit in states that don't pay a supplement (additional benefits) is the SSI "federal benefit rate."
To qualify for SSI benefits, you must meet the income and asset limits and be at least 65 years old or considered disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This article will discuss the income limits you must meet to qualify for SSI disability benefits, including how Social Security counts income.
The federal benefit rate (FBR) is the maximum amount of SSI benefits that individuals and couples can receive. In 2023, the individual amount is $914 per month. The FBR for couples is $1,371 in 2023. (Most years, there's a cost-of-living increase of a few dollars.)
If you're approved for SSI benefits, these maximums reflect the most you can get from the federal government. Many states offer a "state supplement," which increases the monthly SSI payment you can receive and also increases the SSI income limit for that state.
The FBR, the monthly income limit for SSI, works as follows:
Social Security doesn't consider all your income in determining whether you qualify for SSI and how much your monthly benefits will be. Social Security considers only "countable income." As a result, you can actually make more than the federal benefit rate and still receive a small SSI benefit.
There are a few types of income that Social Security doesn't count. Those include the following:
Social Security will count most earned and unearned income and even some income you don't personally earn. For example, if you're getting SSI and you live with a spouse who isn't also receiving SSI, Social Security might count part of your spouse's income as your 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 could reduce the amount of your SSI payment is when you receive free food or shelter from a friend or family member. Social Security considers free room and board as "in-kind income." And the SSA will reduce your SSI payment by up to one-third in such a situation.
Note that loans, even those for food and shelter, don't count as income and won't reduce your SSI payment. If you agree in writing to repay your friend or family member the value of the food or shelter (or other item), Social Security might not reduce your monthly benefit. This contract should be signed by both parties, and a copy should be sent to Social Security.
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 your local Social Security office or by calling the SSA at 800-772-1213.
If you believe that Social Security has wrongly denied your SSI claim or reduced your benefit amount, you might benefit from speaking with a disability attorney. An experienced lawyer can review your case and help you file an appeal.