Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are already confusing. For SSI applicants in particular, unearned income can reduce your monthly payment amount. Unfortunately, the SSA doesn’t view the matter as one-size-fits-all. Each person and family is different, so the SSA grants every approved claim a different amount of money. When it comes to determining your SSI benefits, they start by looking at your current income. This is a number that goes far beyond your current or last job’s wages. Unearned income will affect your SSI disability benefits, but to a different degree than it would someone else. Below, we’ll explain what you need to know about how unearned income affects your monthly SSI disability benefits.
The Federal Benefit Rate
SSI is a disability benefit that’s similar to SSDI, except it doesn’t require the same extensive work history. Instead, your household income (or lack of it) needs to be low enough to qualify for monthly SSI payments. In addition, the money that funds these payments is totally separate as required under federal law. The general tax fund pays for SSI benefits; SSDI payments, however, come directly out of the Social Security Trust Fund. So, it’s technically impossible for SSI payments to deplete Social Security funds in any way.
Qualifying for SSI benefits might seem simple at first glance. It’s a federal assistance program designed to help only the poorest Americans who are blind, disabled or aged 65 and up. The maximum payment for those who qualify in 2022 is $841 per month, assuming your current monthly income is less than $1,350. Those who do qualify, however, aren’t guaranteed the max amount. To determine your payment amount, the SSA looks at your income — but you should note that income and wages aren’t the same thing.
Unearned Income vs. Earned Income
Earned income is any wages an employer pays you in exchange for work. Unearned income, on the other hand, refers to any money you receive from another benefit program, interest from things like savings accounts, court-ordered payments (i.e., alimony, child support) or cash gifts. One other thing the government considers is “in-kind” income, which refers primarily to things like free food or shelter. For example: Do you live rent-free at a parent or other relative’s home? If so, does this person also provide free meals or transportation when you need it? Then the Social Security Administration will count those things towards your monthly income limit. In-kind income can show up in some unexpected and hard-to-count ways, like taking turns filling up a shared vehicle with gas or splitting grocery bills.
Unearned Income and Your SSI Payments
In-kind and unearned income won’t disqualify you from SSI payments. However, they will make the amount you get paid each month smaller. Keep that in mind when other people give you gifts in the form of recurring services, like rides to the doctor. The more income you have from all sources and types combined, the lower your monthly SSI payments will be.
The SSA determines your payment value by looking at your countable income. This is a confusing term: Isn’t all income countable? The short answer is, no. There are several kinds that don’t count against you, such as Christmas or birthday presents, tax returns and food stamps. The SSA does count any recurring gifts or large sums of money (such as an inheritance). If you live with your spouse or parents and those people work, some of their income also counts towards reducing your SSI payments.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Understanding whether you qualify for SSI benefits and how much money you’ll get is confusing enough already. To quickly figure out whether your current situation qualifies for SSI, talk to a Social Security attorney before you apply. It can take years to appeal after you’re denied benefits the fist time, and most people can’t afford to go without income that long. The disability lawyers in our network offer free, no-obligation consultations to anyone with claim questions. Plus, you’re nearly 3x more likely to get approved for benefits the first time you apply if a lawyer files your claim.
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.