If you get financial aid, grants, or gifts to go to college or vocational school, you may be able to exclude the money from your countable resources (assets). (To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled and you must meet certain income and asset guidelines.) First, here's a quick primer on the SSA's resource and income limits.
Income and Resource Limits
If you are single, you can have up to $2,000 in assets and still be able to get SSI. Some things, like your primary home and the main car you drive, aren’t considered when the SSA calculates your assets. You can read more detail about this topic in our article How Much Can I Have in Assets and Still Be Eligible for Disability Benefits?
As to income, the more income you have the less your SSI payment will be, and if you have too much income you can become ineligible for SSI altogether. To learn more about income limits, see our article on Income Limits and SSI Disability Eligibility.
Education-Related Financial Aid
If you get financial aid for school, the SSA may exclude the assistance when it calculates your resources. Depending on the type of aid you receive, you may be eligible for a 9-month exclusion, or the financial assistance may be excluded for an unlimited amount of time. Examples of eligible financial aid includes:
- Title IV assistance under the Higher Education Act (HEA)
- assistance under the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
- grants (from the government or private sources)
- fellowships, and
- gifts used to pay for school-related fees.
Title IV and BIA Educational Assistance
The SSA will exclude all financial aid that you get from either Title IV Higher Education Act or BIA assistance when it calculates your income and resources. There is no time limit for how long the SSA will exclude the assistance, no matter how long you keep the funds.
Here are examples of qualifying Title IV HEA or BIA assistance programs:
- Pell grants
- State Student Incentives
- Academic Achievement Incentive Scholarships
- Byrd Scholars
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grants (FSEOG)
- Federal Educational Loans (like Federal PLUS Loans, Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans, Ford Loans)
- Upward Bound
- Gear Up (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs)
- LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership).
- SLEAP (Special Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership), and
- Work-Study Programs.
Use of Funds
It doesn’t matter how you spend the money you receive from this type of financial aid.
Interest or Dividends From These Loans
If you don’t spend all the money from you Title IV or BIA educational assistance and you earn either interest or are paid dividends from them, the SSA will also exclude the interest and dividends when it calculates your income and resources.
Scholarships, Grants, Fellowships, and Gifts
Any other financial assistance (other than those discussed in the section above) used to pay school-related fees will be disregarded from your resources calculation for a period of nine-months, beginning with the month after you receive the money. This includes gifts of money, grants, scholarships, and fellowships.
In order to qualify as a educational gift, the money must be given to you without any expectation that it will be paid back. It also can’t be given to you based on some legal obligation on the part of the giver—such as part of a child support order. Also, the giver must give up complete control of the money. When a parent pays for college, it counts as a gift.
Grants, Scholarships, and Fellowships
Grants, scholarships, and fellowships can be paid by nonprofit organizations, federal, state, or local governments, or private businesses or individuals and are intended to help you further your training or education through activities like scholastics or research work.
Use of Funds
Gift, grant, and scholarship money must be used to pay tuition or school-related fees to be excluded. School-related fees include:
- lab fees
- fees for student activities
- transportation costs
- supplies like paper, pens, and notebooks
- technology fees
- text books, and
- any impairment-related expenses needed for you to go to school (for example, if you need specialized transportation because you can’t drive or take a public bus).
If you use any of the grant, scholarship, or gift money for expenses other than necessary educational-related expenses or you don’t intend to use it to pay for necessary educational-related expenses, the money will be counted as income at the earliest of the following:
during the month you spend the money, or
- during the month you don’t plan on using the money to pay for necessary education-related expenses.
Even funds set aside for (or already spent) specifically for your food and shelter are not entitled to the nine-month exclusion or any exclusion, and will be counted as a resource.
Interest or Dividends
Any interest or dividends you are paid on the unspent educational grants, scholarships, fellowships or gifts are counted as income.
Funds Leftover at the End of the Nine-Month Exclusion Period
If you have grant, scholarship, fellowship, or gift money still left at the end of the nine-month exclusion period, it will be counted against you as a resource during the first month after the nine-month exclusion period has ended.
Educational Assistance and Benefits Paid Before July 1, 2004
If you received benefits before July 1, 2004, the exclusion rules are different. You can read about them in detail on the SSA’s website.
Contact the SSA
Make sure you contact the SSA if you are unsure about how educational financial aid will affect your SSI benefits. This is important because depending on the type and amount of the financial aid, your SSI payments could be stopped or you could lose your eligibility. You can call the SSA at 800-772-1213 or visit your local field office to speak with someone in person.