Your husband or wife's income only matters for SSI (the low income, need-based disability program), since the SSDI program (for those who paid FICA taxes over many years) has no income limits. If you are married and your husband or wife makes an income, the SSI program might "deem" part of your spouse's income to be available to you. If your spouse has a sizeable income, his or her income, if deemed to you, can lower your SSI payment or even make you ineligible for SSI.
Who Is Considered a Spouse?
If you are legally married to a person of the opposite sex and are living together, you are considered married for the purpose of deeming income. At the current time, there is no deeming between gay and lesbian couples, even if they are married, registered as domestic partners, or in a “civil union.”
If you live with a boyfriend or girlfriend and you hold yourselves out in the community to be husband and wife, the SSA will deem your income.
When Is a Spouse’s Income Deemed to You?
If your spouse makes more than $361 per month, his or her income is subject to deeming. Or, if you have one child and your spouse makes more than $721 per month, your spouse’s income is subject to deeming. If you have two children, and your spouse makes more than $1,082, your spouse’s income is subject to deeming. (And so on.)
How Much of a Spouse’s Income Is Deemed?
The Social Security Administration has a complicated formula for deeming a spouse's income. To estimate how much of your husband or wife’s income will be deemed to you, you can follow these guidelines.
First, deduct living expenses of $361 for each child from your spouse’s income.
Then add your spouse’s income to any income you have. Do not include income from a spouse's IRA or company pension.
Then you are allowed to take certain deductions to give you your countable income for SSI, just as you would if you weren't married. (For example, you are allowed to subtract $65-$85 from your earned income and then cut the remainder in half to come up with your countable income.)
What’s left after you've made these deductions is the spousal income that is deemed to you.
You then subtract this amount from the SSI income limit for a couple (as if you were both disabled), not for an individual. The couple’s SSI income limit (and monthly benefit rate) is $1,082 in 2014.
What remains, if anything, will be your monthly benefit. If the remainder is zero or less, you aren’t eligible for SSI.
If the remainder is more than the maximum federal SSI rate for an individual, $721, then you will receive only $721. (Note that these calculations would change if your state adds a state supplement to the SSI payment.)
Examples of Spousal Income Deeming
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of whether your husband or wife's income might make you ineligible for SSI.
Spouse’s salary $30,000 per year, no children
Say your wife makes $2,500 per month at her job and has no other income, and you have no other income and no children. About $1,200 per month of your wife’s income will be deemed to you (according to the above guidelines). Subtracting that amount from the couple’s SSI rate of $1,082 leaves you with nothing. You would not be eligible for SSI because of your wife’s income.
Spouse’s salary $30,000 per year, two children
Your wife makes $2,500 per month at her job and has no other income. You have no other income but you have two children (without an income of their own). About $846 of your wife's income will be deemed to you. Subtracting this amount from the couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,082 would give you about $235 in SSI benefits.
Spouse’s salary $15,600 per year, no children
Your husband makes $1,300 per month by working and has no other income, and you have no other income and no children. About $600 per month of your husband’s income will be deemed to you. You would be eligible for SSI, but you would only get about $482 per month, less than the federal maximum benefit of $721.
Spouse’s salary $15,600 per year, two children
Your husband makes $1,300 per month through work, and you have two minor children living with you. Only about $245 of your husband’s income will be deemed to you. Subtracting this amount from the couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,082 would give you about $835 in SSI, in theory. However, you can never get more than the $721 federal maximum for SSI (unless there is a state supplement), so your monthly payment would be $721. You can see here that because of your children, your husband’s income isn’t actually deemed to you at all.
Note that these are rough calculations for the purpose of illustration; the SSA's formula can get a bit more complicated, particularly if you and/or your spouse has earned income and unearned income, or any impairment-related work expenses. In addition, the calculations change in states that add on a supplementary payment to SSI. For more information, see our article on the state supplementary payment for SSI.