It used to be that receiving a significant amount of money or property would likely disqualify you from getting SSI, but not SSDI. But with the introduction of ABLE accounts, for some, having assets does not need to affect your eligibility for benefits under either program. First, the basics: Social Security manages two disability programs with their own rules of eligibility. Most individuals who apply for disability benefits will be evaluated for both Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Eligibility for SSDI is based on an individual's work activity. Individuals who have worked enough to be insured for their age will receive a disability benefit if they are found to be medically disabled. Owning or receiving money or property does not prohibit an individual from getting Social Security disability benefits, because the SSDI program has no resource (asset) limits. Plus, SSDI does not have a limit to the amount of unearned income you have, such as money from investments, interests, cash gifts, or inheritance. So if you receive any of these items after you apply, your eligibility won't be affected.
SSDI does have limits on how much income you can earn from work and still qualify, however. If you earn over $1,180 per month (in 2018), you generally won't be considered disabled. But SSDI does have a trial work program—a time period after you start receiving benefits when you can earn unlimited income without it affecting your benefits.
The second disability program administered by the Social Security is SSI. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program that is designed to help disabled individuals who have not worked, not worked much, or not worked recently. Individuals must meet income and resource (asset) limits to qualify for this program.
The SSI program has the same income limit as SSDI initially: $1,180 per month (in 2018). However, after you're approved for benefits, the $1,180 limit no longer applies. Instead, your SSI payment will be reduced if you earn over $85 per month, and it will be terminated altogether if you make over approximately $1,550 per month.
The resource limit for the SSI program is currently $2,000; owning property above that amount can prevent you from receiving SSI. However, the land that you live on, your house, and a vehicle are excluded from the limit. Resources that do count toward the limit are bank accounts, cash gifts, retirement plans, stocks, bonds, inheritances, jewelry (except a wedding and engagement ring), and household goods and personal effects that are worth over $2,000.
Fortunately, the SSI program now allows up to $100,000 in an ABLE account to be shielded from the resource limit. An ABLE account is a special bank account that can be used only for qualified disability-related expenses, such as medical care, housing, education, and employment training. ABLE accounts, however, are only available for those who became disabled before they turned 26. For more information, see our article on ABLE accounts.
If the value of property you own, and money you have that is not in an ABLE account, is over the SSI resource limit when you apply for SSI at the Social Security office, you will most likely be denied when you complete your initial disability interview. If your income and property are under the resource limit, your claim will be sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS) to evaluate your disability. After DDS says whether you are disabled or not, your claim will be sent back to your local Social Security office for an end-line review to determine if you still meet the income and resource limits of the SSI program. So even if you are medically approved, you could still receive a denial because of too many resources/assets at an end-line SSI review if your financial circumstances have changed.
You are required to tell the SSA if your financial information changes after you apply. For instance, if, after you apply, you receive some unexpected income, such as child support, or you receive property, you have to tell the Social Security. Failing to tell the agency of changes in your finances, even after you start to receive benefits, can result in your having to pay back overpayments, and possibly be charged with penalties and fraud.