Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, can provide much-needed income for disabled individuals with limited resources and earnings. As of this writing, federal SSI benefits can provide a maximum of $733 for an individual or $1,100 for a married couple, plus most states add a supplemental payment. However, if you earn any income, it can drastically reduce or eliminate your ability to qualify for benefits. Here's what you need to know about the SSI earnings limits, and how yours can affect benefit eligibility.
How to qualify for SSI
In a nutshell, eligibility for SSI depends on four main factors – disability, resources, income, and citizenship.
- Disability: For SSI qualification, you can meet this requirement by demonstrating a disability that makes you unable to work, or if you're blind or over 65.
- Resources: Other than your primary residence and a few other exceptions, your total resources (things you own) must be less than $2,000 for individuals or $3,000 for couples. This includes cash, bank accounts, other personal property, and anything else that could potentially be converted to cash.
- Income: SSI is designed for individuals with little or no income, so any income you receive can affect your ability to collect SSI benefits. More on this in a bit.
- Citizenship: SSI recipients must be U.S. Citizens or qualifies aliens. Qualified aliens must also meet a condition that allows such individuals to collect SSI.
This is the short version of these requirements, and there is more to each one than is mentioned here. If you're interested, here's a thorough discussion of the eligibility requirements for SSI benefits.
How income affects benefits
The effect of your income on SSI eligibility depends on the source of that income and how much you make.
If the income you receive is from working, the first $65 per month is exempt from SSI calculations, and if the income is from any source other than work (unearned income), such as workers' compensation, Social Security, unemployment, Veterans Affairs, and money you're given by friends and family, only the first $20 per month is exempt.
Beyond these exemption amounts, any earned income will reduce your SSI benefits by $1 for every $2 you receive, and unearned income will reduce your eligibility dollar-for-dollar. For example, if you earn $500 this month from a job, $65 of it will not count. The remaining $435 will reduce your SSI benefits by half of this amount, or $217.50.
So, what's the maximum income to qualify for SSI?
As you can see from the previous section, it depends where the income comes from. And, it depends whether you receive benefits as an individual or a couple.
If your income is from working, multiply your benefit amount by two, and add $65. This is the threshold where your SSI benefits would disappear completely. If your income is from another source, do the same calculation, but add $20. As a general formula:
So, if you're an individual and your SSI benefit is $733 per month, your benefit will go to zero if your income is $1531 or higher if the income is from working.
Keep in mind that if your income is anywhere near the maximum, you will still be eligible for SSI benefits but the amount you receive will be very small. In the above example, if you earned $1,400 in a month, you would technically still be eligible for benefits, but you would receive just $65.50.
The maximum income to qualify for SSI also depends on what state you live in. As I mentioned earlier, most states give supplemental payments to SSI beneficiaries -- and those that do have supplements ranging from about $10 to $700, and many of these depend on the living situation of the recipient. A state supplement would increase the maximum income a recipient could have while still qualifying for benefits.
Other income exclusions
In addition to the basic income exclusions we've already discussed, there are a few special exclusions.
- If you're a student under age 22, up to $1,850 of gross income per month (up to $7,180 for calendar year 2016) can be excluded.
- If you're disabled, any out-of-pocket expenses you pay for items you need in order to work can be excluded from income. For example, if you pay for car modifications that help you get to and from work, this cost can be excluded from earned income.
- If you're blind, any money you spend to be able to work (such as transportation) can be excluded from your earned income for SSI purposes.
The bottom line
To sum it up, it is still possible to collect SSI benefits if you receive other income, so don't let this fact prevent you from applying. However, the exact amount of income you can earn and still receive some SSI benefits depends on a few factors -- such as your marital status, what state you live in, your life situation (student, blind, and so on), and the source of the income in question.