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.
If you are legally married and are living together, you are considered married for the purpose of deeming income. At the current time, there is no deeming between those in a domestic partnership or civil union. However, 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 boyfriend or girlfriend's income to you.
In 2021, if you and your spouse have no children and your spouse makes more than $397 per month, his or her income is subject to deeming. Or, if you have one child, your spouse’s income is subject to deeming if he or she makes more than $794 per month. If you have two children, your spouse’s income is subject to deeming if he or she makes more than $1,191. (And so on, adding $397 for each child.)
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 $397 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. Generally, for earned income (income from work), you are allowed to subtract $85 and then cut the remainder in half to come up with your countable earned income. You then add that to any unearned 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 income limit (and monthly SSI benefit rate) for a couple is $1,191 in 2021.
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, $794, then you will receive only $794. (Note that these calculations would change if your state adds a state supplement to the SSI payment.)
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of whether your husband or wife's income might make you ineligible for SSI.
Your husband makes $1,300 per month by working and has no other income, and you have no other income and no children. About $607 per month of your husband’s income will be deemed to you (($1,300-$85)/2). You would be eligible for SSI, but you would only get about $584 per month ($1,191-$607), less than the federal maximum benefit of $794.
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. You have been approved for SSI. Only $1,208 per month of your wife’s income will be deemed to you (($2,500-$85)/2). Subtracting that amount from the couple’s SSI rate of $1,191 would leave you with nothing. You would not be eligible for SSI because of your wife’s income.
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). Only $810.50 of your wife's income will be deemed to you (($2,500-$397-$397-$85)/2). Subtracting this amount from the couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,191 would give you $380.50 in SSI benefits.
Your husband makes $1,300 per month through work, and you have two minor children living with you. You don't have any income of your own (($1,300-$397-$397-$85)/2). Only $210.50 of your husband’s income will be deemed to you. Subtracting this amount from a couple’s maximum SSI payment of $1,191 would give you about $980.50 in SSI, in theory. However, you can't get more than the $794 federal maximum for SSI (unless there is a state supplement), so your monthly payment would be $794. 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 also have earned income or you or your spouse also has 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.
Updated February 21, 2021