Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a safety-net government benefit for older, disabled and blind people in financial need. The Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the program, sets strict limits on how much money SSI beneficiaries can earn and on the level of financial assets, such as savings or stocks, they can own.
To be eligible for SSI, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 worth of what Social Security calls “countable resources.” For a married couple, the spouses’ combined assets cannot exceed $3,000. Resources topping those levels are grounds for Social Security to reject an application for SSI, and to withhold or terminate benefits if you’re already getting them.
The SSA defines resources as things of value that you own, including:
- Bank accounts
- Financial investments such as stocks and bonds
- Life insurance
- Personal property
- Anything else you own that could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter
Say you have $800 each in checking and savings accounts and no other financial assets. You could qualify for SSI, assuming you also meet the criteria for income and age or disability. However, if in addition to that $1,600 in the bank you have $5,000 in a mutual fund or individual retirement account (IRA), you cannot receive SSI.
Social Security also may count some “deemed resources” toward your limit. These are assets belonging to a spouse, parent or in-law that you live with or, if you’re an immigrant, to a sponsor who supports your U.S. residency.
Not all resources count
Just as the SSA does not count every dollar you collect from work and other sources in determining whether you meet SSI income requirements, it does not factor all your assets into the resource equation.
For example, your resource tally will not include the home you live in or a vehicle you or another member of your household rely on for transportation. (If you own a second car or another property, those may count.)
Here are some other types of resources that do not count toward SSI eligibility:
- Household goods and personal items you use or wear regularly, such as furniture, appliances and clothes. (Personal property you own because it has value as an investment does count.)
- Property essential to self-support, such as real estate you own for use in a trade or business.
- Life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,500 or less.
- Funds set aside to pay for burial of you and your spouse, up to $1,500 each.
- Money in a health care flexible spending account (FSA).
- Savings in certain specialized accounts designed for disabled or low-income people.
- Grants, scholarships, fellowships or gifts received for educational purposes. (These may become countable if not used within nine months.)
You’ll find a full list of the exclusions on Social Security’s web page on SSI and resources.
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Keep in mind
- Social Security periodically reviews SSI beneficiaries’ income and assets to ensure they remain eligible. This process, called “redetermination,” is distinct from a continuing disability review, which checks your continued eligibility for SSI based on a medical condition.
- If the SSA finds that your countable assets have grown beyond the $2,000 (or $3,000) limit, you lose SSI benefits as of the month in which you crossed the line. You may be able to restore your eligibility by selling or transferring ownership of excess resources and in some cases collect conditional benefits while doing so.
- The SSA frowns on selling or transferring assets at less than fair market value to get under the resource limit. Doing so could render you ineligible for SSI for up to 36 months.
Published November 5, 2021