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How to Apply for SSI

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Updated Jun 14, 2017 at 11:41AM

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If you think you might be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits, here's how to find out for sure.

The Social Security Administration has two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, based on work records, and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, intended for low-income individuals with limited resources. Here's how you can apply for SSI benefits, what Social Security forms you need to fill out, and how to check your claim status.

What is SSI
As I mentioned, SSI is intended to provide supplementary income to low-income disabled individuals who have limited resources.

To qualify, you need to meet four main criteria:

  • You need to be over 65, blind, or have a disability, as defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
  • Your income must be below a certain threshold. The first $65 of wage income isn't taken into account for SSI purposes, but any income above that reduces or eliminates your eligibility for benefits.
  • Your total resources (things you own, including cash and investments) must be worth less than $2,000 ($3,000 for a couple). This does not include your primary home, and generally does not include your car. There are also a few other exclusions.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien.

Of course, there are pages of details behind each of these qualifications. If you're not sure if you qualify, check out this guide from the SSA. 

Image shows front door to social security office

You can apply for SSI benefits in person at a Social Security office, or over the phone. Photo: Ken Mayer

How to apply
Unlike Social Security retirement benefits, you can't apply for SSI online. To start the process, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to make an appointment with a representative, which can take place over the phone or in person at your local Social Security office. Or, simply go to your local Social Security office without an appointment, and someone should be able to assist you -- although the SSA warns that doing so can result in a longer wait time.

When you apply, it will be helpful to have the following documentation handy:

  • A Social Security number
  • Your birth certificate, or other paperwork showing your age or date of birth (such as a drivers' license or passport) -- A birth certificate or passport can also take care of the proof of citizenship requirement. (Photocopies are not accepted)
  • If you have income, bring pay stubs or other income records.
  • If you have qualified work expenses -- that is, if you paid out of pocket for any items that help you work -- bring receipts for these items.
  • Bank statements for all accounts.
  • Deeds or tax appraisal statements for property you own other than the home you live in
  • Life insurance policies
  • Burial contracts and burial plot information
  • Details of any investments -- CDs, stocks, bonds, etc.
  • Titles/registration for any vehicles you own
  • If you rent your home, your lease or a rent receipt.
  • Names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers for other members of your household.
  • If you own your home, the deed or property tax bill.
  • Medical reports (to document a disability), and the names and numbers of your doctors.
  • Information about previous jobs you've worked.

If you think you may be eligible, the SSA encourages you to apply as soon as possible, in order to avoid missing out on benefits to which you're entitled. Everyone has the right to apply, and it doesn't cost anything.

And, if you need help, the SSA will assist you in completing application forms, and will help you get the documents you need. They will even pay for a medical exam if the appropriate documentation of your disability doesn't yet exist, or is unavailable.

What to expect after you apply
After you apply for SSI, you (or your representative) will be notified in writing of the decision about your disability claim's eligibility for SSI benefits. This notice will contain information about your SSI benefits, or that you were found to be ineligible, and it will also tell you what actions you should take if you agree or disagree with the decision. And, if you disagree with the SSA's decision, you have the right to appeal within 60 days of the date you receive your initial notice.

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