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. Historically this amount has increased almost every year due to a cost-of-living adjustment. In 2012, for example, the individual amount is $698, and it will increase by 1.7% in 2013 to $710. The amount for couples has been increased from $1,048 in 2012 to $1,066 in 2013. 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. For more information, see disabilitysecrets.com's article on that topic, What Are State Supplemental SSI Benefits?
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 (plus the state supplement, if applicable) are financially eligible to receive SSI, but their monthly SSI payment will be reduced by a portion if their income.
Social Security does not consider all income, however, 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. For more information, see our article on countable income.
What Will SSA Count As My Income?
SSA will counts 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. (For more information, see disabilitysecrets.com' article Will the Income of a Spouse Affect My Disability Benefits?)
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. For more information, see our article on 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.
SSI's Income Limit: An Example
Mary earns $325 per month at a part-time job and receives $150 per month in food stamps. Mary's cousin pays Mary's telephone bill directly to the phone company. Mary receives $200 per month in child support for her child. Mary's state of Arizona does not pay an SSI supplement. Under these facts, is Mary's income over the limit for SSI?
No, Mary's income is less than the FBR. Less than half of Mary's $325 in earned income will be counted by SSA. The first $20 of income is always exempt. Under the Earned Income Exclusion, the next $65 and one-half of what's left is exempt. So of the $325 in wages, only $120 is counted ($325 - $20 - $65 = $240; and $240 ÷ 2 = $120). Mary's food stamps and her phone bill, since her cousin pays it directly to the phone company, are not counted. Child support received for one's child also does not count against the income limit. (Child support paid to a child applying for SSI is partially counted.) So Mary's income is not over the limit, but her monthly SSI payment will be reduced each month by $120.
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.