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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 2023 is $914 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 $614 in 2022.
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.
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 2023 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.
Your monthly SSI benefit = the maximum SSI federal benefit rate ($914 in 2023) – 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.
When determining your SSI payments, all counted income falls into one of four categories:
Countable income = (earned income - $65) * ½ + unearned income + in-kind income + deemed 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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Ready to apply for SSI? Read these SSI tips for success first.
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.
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 2023 COLA resulted in an 8.7% increase in SSI benefits. That also means that if you don’t start getting SSI until 2023, the maximum possible benefit is higher than it was in 2022. ($914 in 2023 vs. $841 in 2022).
To find out when each year’s increased SSI check should come, you can check out our SSI payment schedule overview.
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.
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.
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.
To qualify for SSI in 2023, 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.
No, food stamps (SNAP benefits) do not 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.
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.
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.
No, SSI isn’t taxable on either your state or federal tax returns in 2022 or 2023. Learn more about taxes on disability benefits.
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