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How Is SSI Calculated and What Income Counts in 2024?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
March 26, 2023  ·  6 min read
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Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments can be a huge help paying the bills each month. That said, SSI benefits aren’t enough to live off. For starters, the maximum SSI payment for 2024 is $943 per month, but how much you get is decreased by the value of any other income you have. The average monthly SSI benefit was just $674 in November 2023.

How much you get from SSI depends not just on your earned income, but other benefits you receive could affect your payments. There are also income exclusions that most people receive.

Finding your benefit amount isn’t always straightforward, so let’s break down how your SSI payments are calculated.

Relieve yourself of paperwork stress. Get help from a lawyer.

Who is eligible for SSI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) starts the process by determining if you meet the income and asset limits for SSI. Your income must be less than about $1,000 per month in 2024 and your total assets must be less than $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for married couples.

Assets include cash, savings, investments, and other money or valuables you have. The SSA doesn’t count your home or first car toward your resources. However, any homes, cars, boats, or other vehicles will count as assets.

You’ll also need to meet medical requirements with a disability or condition that leave you unable to work, unless you’re already 65 or older. Learn more about SSI medical requirements.

How to calculate SSI benefits

Your monthly SSI benefit = the maximum SSI federal benefit rate ($943 in 2024) – your countable income.

There are a few income exclusions. The SSA specifically doesn’t count the first $20 of most income. If you have earnings — like wages from an employer — the SSA doesn’t count the first $65 and then only counts half of what you earn over that. The SSA also doesn’t consider the value of other assistance programs you receive, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

On the surface, finding the value of your SSI check seems straightforward. But what exactly does the SSA treat as countable income? This is where the calculation gets complex.

What is countable income for SSI?

When determining your SSI payments, all counted income falls into one of four categories:

  • Earned income

  • Unearned income

  • In-kind income

  • Deemed income

Countable income = (earned income - $65) * ½ + unearned income + in-kind income + deemed income

What is earned income?

For SSI, earned income includes income you receive for doing a job, like wages from an employer or earnings from a business you own. The SSA doesn’t count the first $65 of your earned income and then only counts half of your earnings above that amount. So if you earn $475 per month, the SSA only counts $205 when finding your SSI amount ($475 - 65 = $410 and then $410 * ½ = $205).

What is unearned income?

Unearned income includes payments, disability benefits, and other income sources you have that aren’t from working a job. Examples include pensions, unemployment benefits, interest, dividends, payments from state programs, disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and other Social Security benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) does count as unearned income for SSI.

What is in-kind income?

The SSA calculates your in-kind income as the value of food, housing, and housing maintenance that you get for free or for less than market value. There are a few exceptions. If you own a house, the SSA excludes the value of that housing from your SSI income. Free housing doesn’t count as income if you live with your spouse or if you’re a minor living with your parents.

In-kind income gets a little confusing. Here are three common examples:

  1. If you’re part of a meal program that gives you free meals, the SSA will determine how much those meals are worth and count that value as part of your income. This doesn’t include SNAP (food stamps).

  2. If you live rent-free in a home or apartment, the SSA will figure out how much that residence would rent for on the open market and apply your portion of that as your in-kind income.

  3. If you live in someone else’s house — not including your spouse or your parents if you’re a minor — the SSA can also apply the one-third reduction provision. This provision says the SSA can reduce your SSI benefit by one-third (33%) if you live in someone else’s home and eat their food without paying anything. The one-third provision could apply if you live with a friend, sibling, other family member, or coworker.

  4. If a friend or family member pays your monthly electric or utilities bill, the SSA will subtract that amount from your SSI benefit because that’s part of maintaining your home.

For more examples of housing situations that do or don’t qualify as in-kind income, read this SSA page on living arrangements and SSI.

What is deemed income?

Deemed income for SSI is income that the SSA considers you have a share of because you live with someone who earns it. So if you live with your spouse, their income counts against your SSI checks. If you’re a minor living with a parent, their income also counts for SSI. For a non-U.S. citizen, income your sponsor earns will count as deemed income.

Examples of income that counts for SSI

Knowing the types of income the SSA will count is a start, but how your specific income counts isn’t always clear. Here are specific examples of income that count for SSI:

  • Wages from an employer

  • Income from part-time, freelance, or seasonal work

  • Wages from a sheltered workshop or work activity center

  • Paychecks and dividends from a company you own

  • Retirement benefits, including Social Security

  • Pensions, including monthly or lump-sum payments

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits

  • VA disability benefits

  • State disability benefits

  • Payments from other state programs

  • Unemployment benefits

  • Workers’ comp benefits

  • Investment dividends 

  • Interest from savings accounts

  • A portion of child support payments

  • Some royalties

  • Money that friends or family give you

  • Honoraria (like volunteer pay from a nonprofit)

  • The value of free meal programs (not including SNAP)

  • The value of your portion of free housing unless it’s paid for by a spouse or you’re a minor and it’s paid for by a parent

  • Heating and electrical bills someone else pays for you

  • Your spouse’s income

  • Your parent’s income if you’re a minor and live with them

  • Your sponsor’s income if you’re a noncitizen

Are you applying for SSI for someone else? Start with our guides to applying for SSI for a child or how to help a loved one apply for disability.

What income doesn’t count for SSI?

Fortunately, not everything that can help you support yourself counts as income in the eyes of the SSA. Here are some types of income that don’t count for SSI:

  • The first $20 of most income

  • The first $65 of your earnings

  • Half of your earnings over $65

  • Inheritances

  • The value of SNAP benefits (also called food stamps)

  • Shelter or food you get from a nonprofit

  • Section 8 housing

  • Money someone else pays for your non-food or shelter expenses (like medical, phone, and internet bills)

  • Need-based assistance from your state or local government or a federally recognized Native American tribe

  • Scholarships, grants, gifts, and fellowships applied toward education expenses

  • Monthly earnings up to $2,290 if you’re a student under age 22 (with a max of $9,230 per year in 2024)

  • Income tax refunds and advanced tax credits (like COVID-19 stimulus checks)

  • Home energy assistance

  • Loans that you have to repay

  • Income you put aside under a Plan to Achieve Self–Support (PASS)

  • Unreimbursed, accessibility-related work expenses

  • Disaster assistance

  • Compensation for certain clinical trials (with a max of $2,000 per year in 2023)

  • Some Native American trust fund payments if that tribe is federally recognized

  • Small and irregular gifts of money, like a family member sticking $20 in your birthday card

Ready to apply for SSI? Read these SSI tips for success first.

Can you increase your SSI payment?

The only way to grow your SSI benefit is to decrease your counted income or wait until the next year’s ​​cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). For more help, consider need-based support from nonprofits, state programs, and federal resources. Keep a close eye on what you choose, though. A lot of it could count as unearned or in-kind income, further reducing your SSI benefit.

Learn more in our roundup of resources for people with disabilities.

Will my SSI payments ever change?

Yes, your SSI benefits will increase each year when the SSA does its annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The COLA is based on inflation and your monthly check will automatically increase at the start of each year.

For example, the 2024 COLA resulted in an 3.2% increase in SSI benefits. That also means that if you don’t start getting SSI until 2024, the maximum possible benefit is higher than it was in 2023. ($943 in 2024 vs. $914 in 2023.)

To find out when each year’s increased SSI check should come, you can check out our SSI payment schedule overview.

How is SSI back pay calculated?

Once you get approved for disability benefits, the SSA will send you a lump-sum payment that includes all of your back pay. Your back pay check covers the amount you would have earned if you were approved for SSI sooner instead of having to wait for months or years.

Your back pay is worth your monthly SSI check multiplied by the number of months between your application date and approval date. The SSA does deduct five months of pay because it believes that’s an acceptable processing time.

By the time you get your back pay check, any lawyer fees will already be deducted.

Can you get SSI and SSDI at the same time?

Yes, but most people who get Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) don’t qualify for SSI largely because the SSA counts SSDI benefits as unearned income. 

Similarly, it’s possible to get SSI while on VA disability benefits, but those VA benefits also count toward your unearned income, potentially disqualifying you from SSI.

Where to get help applying for SSI

Applying for SSI is just about as easy as calculating your potential SSI benefits, which is to say it’s fairly challenging. 

Fortunately, we have two big resources to help. The first is a step-by-step guide to the SSI application process. However, the process is still long and complicated, so many people could benefit from professional help. A second resource to consider is a disability lawyer. A lawyer is an expert in the disability process. They'll assist you with filling out the application and gathering medical documents. Most people go through multiple rounds of appeals and a lawyer will give you the best chance of winning at each stage. Plus a lawyer won’t get paid unless you win benefits.

Triple your chances of getting approved. Get matched with a top disability lawyer today.

Frequently asked questions about SSI income

What is the income limit to receive SSI?

To qualify for SSI in 2024, your income must be about $1,000 or less. Your total assets must be worth less than $2,000 if you’re single ($3,000 if married). Learn more about SSI eligibility rules.

Does SSI count food stamps as income?

No, food stamps (SNAP benefits) do not count as income for SSI.

Does VA disability count as income for SSI?

Yes, VA disability benefits do count as income for SSI and will decrease your SSI payments. SSDI and state disability benefits are also income for SSI.

Will SSI count Section 8 housing as income?

Section 8 housing doesn’t count as income for SSI. But living with someone who pays all the bills and lives in Section 8 housing could affect your SSI benefit.

Are there any SSI unearned income exclusions?

The SSA excludes $20 of general income from your countable income, which could include unearned income. There aren’t any other income exclusions specifically for unearned income.

Is SSI taxable income?

No, SSI isn’t taxable on either your state or federal tax returns in 2023 or 2024. Learn more about taxes on disability benefits.

Related resources:

Submitting Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Application: How to Prepare, What to Expect, and Tips for Success

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By Sydney Hershenhorn

SSDI vs SSI: What’s the Difference?

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By Jackie Jakab

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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