The average retiree can expect to receive about $1,507 per month from Social Security. While there are ways to increase this benefit by working longer, choosing your claiming age carefully, and coordinating with your spouse if you're married, those can only get you so far. And they don't help those who have already started Social Security.
But that doesn't mean you're stuck with what you've got. A little-known part of the Social Security program provides certain people with extra benefits -- up to $585 more per month on average.
Do you qualify for extra Social Security benefits?
All workers who have earned 40 credits -- where one credit is defined as $1,470 per month in 2021, and you may earn a maximum of four credits per year -- qualify for Social Security retirement benefits when they turn 62, as well as disability benefits if a disability leaves them unable to work. But certain retirees need a little more help than others. That's where Supplemental Security Income (SSI) comes in.
These are additional benefits paid to certain workers and retirees to help them cover their essential expenses. You may qualify for these benefits if you meet the following criteria:
- You are a U.S. citizen or resident alien who isn't subject to an active warrant for deportation.
- You're a resident of one of the 50 states, Washington, D.C., or the Northern Mariana Islands.
- You're not absent from the U.S. for a full calendar month or 30 consecutive days or more during the year.
- You're not confined to an institution at the government's expense.
- You've applied for other cash benefits you may be eligible for, like Social Security retirement benefits and pensions.
- You have limited income.
- You are 65 or older, blind, or disabled.
Most of these requirements are pretty straightforward, except for what constitutes limited income. The easiest way to check if your income is low enough to qualify is to take five minutes to use the Benefit Eligibility Screener Tool. This will tell you about all types of Social Security benefits you qualify for.
How much will you get from SSI?
The average SSI benefit is $585 per month, paid on top of Social Security retirement benefits. But the exact amount you'll receive depends on the federal benefit rate and your income. As of 2021, the federal benefit rate is $794 for individuals and $1,191 for couples. But that doesn't mean that's how much you'll get from the program. It's just a starting point.
The government then subtracts your countable income from this benefit rate to determine your actual federal benefit. Here's a guide to countable income for SSI if you're interested in learning more about what income could affect your benefit.
Most states provide additional SSI benefits on top of the federal benefits to those who qualify. The only states and territories that don't offer SSI supplements are:
- North Dakota
- Northern Mariana Islands
- West Virginia
Each state has its own formula for determining how large an SSI supplement you qualify for. Reach out to your state for more information.
How do you apply for SSI benefits?
You can apply for SSI benefits in any of these ways:
- Applying online through the Social Security Administration website
- Contacting the Social Security Administration by phone
- Visiting your local Social Security Administration office
It's important to apply as soon as possible to get as much from SSI as you can. The program doesn't pay benefits for any time before your application, even if you technically qualified for them.
You will need documents proving your identity, like your Social Security number and birth certificate. You'll also have to prove your income. If you're not sure what documents you need, contact the Social Security Administration to find out. It's best to have as much of this documentation in order before you apply to speed the process along. But if you can't track down some information, the Social Security Administration may be able to help you do so.
Those who are applying for benefits because they are blind or disabled will need to provide medical information proving this. If you don't currently have a medical exam or test documenting your disability, the Social Security Administration will pay for you to receive this test. In some cases, it may also pay for your travel costs to get to the exam.
An extra $585 in Social Security benefits per month translates to an extra $7,020 per year. That could make a huge difference to low-income families. Checking whether you qualify for SSI only takes a few minutes, so it's worth your time to at least see whether you qualify. If you do, start on your application right away so you can begin receiving benefits as soon as possible.