Being married can have a major impact on what you receive in Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a Social Security-administered benefit for low-income older and disabled people, in two important ways:
- If you and your spouse both qualify for SSI, you are subject to a maximum couple’s benefit, which is less than the sum of two individual benefits.
- If you are applying for or receiving SSI and your spouse is not, Social Security can consider his or her income in determining your eligibility or payment amount, a process called “deeming.”
Neither marital status nor a spouse’s earnings affect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), another benefit the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides for people unable to work due to a serious health issue. SSDI eligibility and payment amounts are based only on your own work history and medical condition.
But SSI is based in large part on financial need. Life changes that affect your household finances, such as getting married or a working spouse getting a raise, can result in reduction or termination of SSI benefits. Here’s how.
Eligible couples and the ‘marriage penalty’
SSI provides monthly payments to people who are disabled, blind or age 65 and over and in financial straits. The maximum federal benefit is set by the SSA and adjusted annually for inflation. It can be reduced if a recipient earns income from work or gets money from other sources such as pensions, government programs or relatives.
In 2023, this maximum benefit is $914 a month. However, if two beneficiaries are married to each other, they are considered an eligible couple and don’t get their own separate benefits. The government applies a couple’s rate of $1,371 a month — 1.5 times the individual benefit. Their combined income is factored into determining the joint payment.
The SSA also sets a ceiling on the amount of financial assets you can own — such as savings, investments and property other than the home you live in — and still qualify for SSI. For an individual, the cap is $2,000; for a couple, $3,000 combined.
According to a 2003 Social Security issue paper, the rationale for paying eligible spouses comparatively less than they’d get as singles is that by sharing a home and financial resources, a couple can live more economically than two people living alone.