Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal need-based program designed to provide a basic sustenance to people who are both disabled and poor. I have seen a wide spectrum of people benefit from this program, such as people born with Down’s syndrome, people with severe mental illnesses, and even stay-at-home-moms that become disabled while married but go through a divorce before retirement age. SSI is there to protect anyone who did not have a fair opportunity to work and accumulate their own assets and retirement. The SSI program is arguably the only reason why America does not look like a third world country.
This article is by no means exhaustive, but I believe it does provide a basic overview of the SSI financial rules. Specific numbers may vary slightly from state to state. Also, the rules can vary depending on whether you are single or married, and whether you have minor children living with you.
Not Enough Work Credits
If you have not worked and paid into the system for at least 5 out of the past 10 years, then SSI will be your only option for income if you become disabled. In addition to proving you’re disabled, SSI also has severe income and asset restrictions that must be met. If your income or assets are too high, you will not be eligible for SSI even if you are disabled.
Maximum Income Limits
For a single person, the federal maximum payment for SSI is $733 per month. The State of California adds some money to this to bring it up to $889 per month for those living in California. The federal maximum for a married couple is $1,100, with the California supplement bringing it up to $1,496 per month.
The general rule is this: You are only eligible for SSI if your pre-SSI income is below $889 for a single person or $1,496 for a married person, after subtracting all exceptions and deductions. Additionally, your assets must also be below the limit.
What Social Security Considers “Income”
Social Security looks at three types of income: (1) your earned income, (2) your unearned income, and (3) our spouse’s earned income.
If you are working and earning money, even if only a small amount, Social Security will reduce your SSI check by half of that amount plus, $65.
Additionally, if you receive any unearned income, such as VA benefits, a private pension, Workers’ Compensation payments, Child Support, or Alimony, then Social Security will deduct the full amount from the SSI check, minus $20.
Lastly, If you have a spouse or significant other that you live with that works, then half of their earned income will be deducted from your SSI check as “deemed” income, plus $65. Social Security considers someone to be your spouse if you are married and living together, or if you are not married but living together and holding yourselves out as married. Even though you did not earn that money, Social Security assumes that a portion of it will be spent on your support.
“In Kind” Support Also Considered “Income”
In addition to looking at any earned or unearned income, Social Security will also evaluate your financial situation and “deem” to you as income any “In-Kind Support.” “In-Kind Support” is any resource that someone gives you, such as food, shelter, or clothing. Social Security will assign a market value of such things as though it were income. However, food stamps, medical care, low-income energy supplements, and reimbursements from a social services agency are excluded.
The One-Third Rule
Generally, if you are receiving free room and board then Social Security will reduce the SSI check by one-third, even if the market value is worth more than that. This is very typical of single disabled people that are living with a relative or friend who is helping them out temporarily. Again, this article provides rough approximation, but how this is calculated exactly may vary by state.
What You Can Exclude From Your Income
After adding up all your income and “in kind” support, Social Security then allows you to deduct from that number certain things. The government allows you to make the following deductions:
- Deduct $361 per minor child living with you from your total pre-SSI income.
- Deduct $20 from your unearned income.
- Deduct $65 from the combined earned incomes.
- Deduct any impairment-related work expenses (such as special chairs or equipment you need because of your disability)
- After this, you may deduct one-half of your spouse’s earned income and one-half of your earned income.
If, after your deductions, your monthly income is more than $889 as a single person or $1,496 as a married person (in California), then you are not likely to be eligible for SSI. However, if your income falls below that amount per month, then you are likely to be eligible for SSI.
In addition to the income limits, a single person cannot have more than $2,000 in assets for SSI. The limit is $3,000 for married couples. This includes cash in the bank, real estate, stocks, bonds, cars, jewelry, and so forth. Social Security will exclude the house you live in, one car, and up to $1,500 in money set aside for funeral expenses or life insurance cash value. If you have more assets than this, then the government expects you to liquidate them to support yourself.
We Fight For Your SSI
Even though the rules are complicated, we help you understand the rules and make a winning strategy so you get the maximum dollar amount from your SSI claim.
If you or someone you know is unable to work due to a disability, please call our office today for a free consultation.