The most general definition of income is money that an entity or individual receives for their work or products. The definition varies depending on aspects of financial accounting, economic analysis, or taxation. For the purpose of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), income is described as “any item an individual receives in cash or in-kind that can be used to meet his or her need for food or shelter … the receipt of any item which can be applied, either directly or by sale or conversion, to meet basic needs of food or shelter.”
Countable Income and Eligibility for SSI
Identifying income is important to the SSI program because the more countable income you have, the less SSI benefit you will receive. Types of income include:
- Earned income – includes wages, net income from self-employment, grants or allowances, certain royalties, and sheltered workshop payments
- Unearned income – passive income received, including Social Security benefits, pensions, unemployment benefits, state disability payments, interest income, dividends, and cash from relatives or friends.
- In-kind income –includes food or shelter (or both) received for free or less than its fair market value.
- Deemed income –the portion of the income from your spouse you live with, parents you live with, or your sponsor.
All of these incomes will reflect in your SSI benefits amount.
Not Countable Toward SSI Eligibility
There are types of income that do not count for your SSI benefits. These include:
- The first $20 of most of your income received per month
- The first $65 of your earnings and ½ of earnings over $65 received per month
- Income tax refunds
- Home energy assistance
- The value of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received
- The assistance provided through State, local government, or an Indian tribe
- Small amounts of infrequently or irregularly received income
- Countable resource interest or dividends, or resources other federal laws exclude
- Loans in cash or in-kind to you that you must repay
- Food or shelter provided through nonprofit agencies
- Money someone else spends to pay for your food or shelter
- Grants, fellowships, scholarships, or gifts used to pay tuition and education expenses
- Income via the government program a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
- Earnings up to $2,040 monthly to a maximum of $8,230 annually (effective January 2022) for a student under age 22.
- Any costs relating to impairment work expenses for services or item requirements a disabled person needs to work under the Impairment-Related Work Expenses program
- Any costs relating to work expenses a blind person incurs so that they can work under the Blind People Who Work program
- The first $2,000 of annual compensation for participating in selected clinical trials
- Disaster relief assistance
- Federal and advanced tax credits that are refundable received on or after January 1, 2010
- Exclusions on certain Indian trust fund payments to American Indians who are members of a federally recognized tribe
Meeting with an Elder Law Attorney
Maximizing your available SSI benefits by employing all of the available exemptions can be confusing. An elder law attorney can help you determine how your income affects your SSI benefits and if there are ways to increase them legally.
Take the following steps to check how your income affects your SSI benefits calculation:
Step 1 – Subtract any income not in the count from your total gross income. The remainder is your countable income.
Your Total Income
– Your income that we do not count
= Your countable income
Step 2 – Subtract your countable income from the SSI federal benefit rate. This reflects your monthly SSI federal benefits:
SSI Federal benefit rate
– Your countable income
= Your SSI Federal benefit
The maximum federal SSI benefit changes annually as it links to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Certain states supplement the federal SSI benefit with additional payments. State calculations for supplemental payment amounts vary based on your income, living arrangements, and other criteria. A disability lawyer will be able to assess how your income level and your state laws affect the SSI benefits amount and maximize the amount you can receive.