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Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, offers a monthly benefit check worth up to $941, though, you need to have assets worth less than a certain dollar amount: $2,000 for individuals or $3,000 for couples and two-parent families. Assets (also called resources) can include the value of some vehicles you own.
Let’s talk about how the SSA values cars and when you need to be worried about one making you ineligible.
How much can my car be worth to be eligible for SSI?
The role of your car’s value in determining SSI eligibility depends on how many vehicles you own. Your first car doesn’t count but any others do count.
Your first vehicle doesn’t count
The SSA lets you keep one car without it affecting your resources total, even if it is the latest model with all the bells and whistles. Specifically, the SSA says one car won’t count toward your resources limit if you or someone in your household uses the vehicle for transportation.
That means the car has to be drivable. If you have a vintage ride sitting in your garage that doesn’t work but is still worth a lot, it won’t count as a vehicle, though it will count against your resource limit.
Any additional vehicles count
If you have a second vehicle — or if your spouse has one — you better believe that the SSA will include it in your resources total.
There’s one bit of good news, though. If you have two cars, the SSA lets you apply the non-counting rule to the more valuable one. So if, for example, you have a rusted-up truck you bought in 1994 and a brand new car you bought last year, your new car will be the one that doesn’t count toward your asset limit. It doesn’t matter that you owned the truck first.
What exactly counts as a vehicle?
You should also know that the SSA doesn’t limit its definition of “vehicle” to cars and trucks. Any registered or unregistered mode of transportation, including motorcycles, snowmobiles, boats, and even animals or animal-drawn vehicles (we’re not joking), can count if you use them primarily for transportation. A temporarily broken down car still counts, though a junked car wouldn’t count since it isn’t drivable.
Keep in mind that even if something doesn’t count as a vehicle for this exclusion, it can count toward your total resource limit. As an example, a boat that you only use occasionally for fun won’t qualify as a vehicle in the eyes of the SSA, but its value will count as an asset.
How the SSA determines car value
If you have a second vehicle, you’re probably wondering how much it will count toward your $2,000 or $3,000 limit. So let’s look at how the SSA decides on a vehicle’s value.
The value of the car you own
It all starts with what the SSA calls current market value (CMV). Per the SSA’s definition, a vehicle’s CMV is the average price that a vehicle will sell for on the open market to a private buyer in your area based on its year, make, model, and condition.
If you own your car outright, CMV applies. Getting an idea of what you could sell your ride for to someone in your area can help you get a feel for its CMV.
The value of a car with a loan
If you don’t fully own the vehicle (like if you still have a car loan), the SSA determines its equity value (EV). That’s its CMV minus what the SSA calls “encumbrances,” which in this case, is the amount remaining on your car loan. This can get tricky, though. As you pay off your loan, your EV goes up. Eventually, you could have enough equity in the vehicle to go over your resource limit.
The value of a car you didn’t buy
If you don’t have any ownership value in a car, it won’t count toward your resource limit. However, someone giving you a car as a gift will count as income in the month you received it.
What does SSI consider assets?
Your second vehicle isn’t the only thing that can eat into your resource limit. Other assets the SSA counts include:
Money in any of your bank accounts (savings, checking, etc.)
Personal property (like a stamp or card collection)
Stocks, mutual funds, and bonds
Land and houses for property you’re not living on (fortunately, your primary residence doesn’t count toward your asset limit)
Burial contracts and burial plots
Life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or more
Beyond getting under the $2,000 limit per person or $3,000 per couple, you also need to have income below the SSI eligibility threshold to participate in this program. And the SSA counts quite a bit as income.
How to get under the asset limit
If you have a second vehicle that would make you ineligible for SSI you don’t necessarily have to wait until you sell it to qualify for benefits.
The SSA offers a way to qualify for benefits while you’re in the process of selling an excess resource. You’ll get conditional payments and you’ll have to sign an agreement confirming that you will sell that asset. With a vehicle, this entitles most people to up to three months of conditional payments, although some people may be able to qualify for more.
To become eligible for conditional SSI while you sell a vehicle, you need to get the “Agreement to Sell Property” form from your local SSA office. Fill it out, submit it, and make sure the SSA accepts it. Then, you’ll need to show you that you’re actually trying to sell it.
Once you sell the second vehicle, you’ll need to repay some of the conditional payments you received, but you can use the proceeds from the sale for that.
Can I just give away my second car?
To expedite this process, it might be tempting to give away that vehicle or sell it for less than it’s worth. Don’t. If you do, you could end up being deemed ineligible for SSI for up to three years.
What to do if you get denied SSI
If the Social Security Administration denies your application, and you are in the process of selling an excess resource and otherwise think you should be approved, a lawyer can help.
Atticus can provide legal advice and match you with a disability lawyer who can help you with the application, hearing, and appeals process. Take our 2-minute disability benefits quiz to get legal help. Getting matched to a lawyer is free — you pay nothing until after you win benefits.
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Frequently asked questions on owning a car with SSI
Can you own a car on SSI?
Yes, you can own a car without it affecting your SSI eligibility. The value of a second car would count as an asset and could make you ineligible for benefits.
Can you own two cars on SSI?
You can own multiple cars and get SSI, but the value of a second vehicle and any additional ones will count against your asset limit. In 2023, the maximum you can have in assets is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a family. Owning more than one car could make it hard to meet those strict limits.
Which car counts as my first car?
If you have multiple cars, the most valuable one counts as your “first” vehicle for SSI, regardless of what type of vehicle it is or when you actually got it.
What else counts as a vehicle for SSI?
Anything you own that serves as transportation can count as a vehicle, including a car, truck, scooter, motorcycle, boat, snowmobile, or even a horse.
Do you have to report buying a car to SSI?
If you buy a car or other vehicle, it could affect the value of your assets and you should report it to the SSA. If you don’t report it, you could run into issues later on, and in some scenarios, you could even have to repay benefits.
Does a car count as an asset if it was a gift?
When someone gives you a car as a gift, it won’t count towards your resources or income limits if it’s your first car. But if you already have a car, the gift will count as income for the month you received it.
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Sarah is an attorney at Atticus Law, P.C. Prior to joining Atticus, she was a civil public defender in Brooklyn, NY and a business reporter in Seattle, WA. She is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.
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