To qualify for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, you must meet the Social Security Administration's (SSA) definition of disabled and meet certain income and asset limits.
SSI allows a single person to have only $2,000 in assets to stay eligible for SSI, and a married couple can only have $3,000 in assets. But some assets, like the home you live in, won't be counted when determining your eligibility—if you meet certain requirements. When the SSA doesn't count your house as a resource, it's called the "home exclusion." (20 CFR 416.1212.)
The home exclusion means that you won't lose your SSI if you buy a house. To be eligible for the SSI home exclusion, you must own your home. To qualify, you can own the house in a number of ways:
In addition, the home must be your primary place of residence. Your principal place of residence is the house you live in and that you consider as the main place you live (where you go back to stay on a regular basis). Your home can be a mobile home or fixed home and can be on either land or water (like a houseboat).
However, below we'll discuss a couple of weird situations where your house or all of your land might or might not be excluded from your income
Social Security doesn't consider the value of a house home when determining whether the home will be excluded; the entire value of your house will be excluded. Also, the land that the house is located on and any buildings that are on the land (like a barn or garage) are excluded as well.
Yes, you can inherit a house as long as you make it your primary residence and it qualifies for the home exclusion (for instance, it's the only house you own).
You can also buy a house without it affecting your disability benefits, as long as you're careful not to go over the asset limit when you're saving for a down payment. For more information, see our article on buying a house while you're on disability.
If you own land on which your home is located, but it's divided up by another person's property, only the value of the land on which your home actually sits will be excluded. For example, if you own ten acres and your home is only located on two acres, and the remaining eight acres are separated from the house by a tract of land owned by someone else, only the two acres on which your home sits will be excluded. Social Security will include the value of the remaining eight acres when they determine your assets.
Even if you live in a home you don't own, if you own the land the home is located on, the land may be excluded from your resources. An example of this is if you live in a mobile home or trailer that someone else owns, but the mobile home is located on land that you own.
Note though, that in this case, if you're not paying rent for the mobile home, Social Security might consider the use of the mobile home as "in-kind support and maintenance."
To count as your primary residence and be excluded from your resources, you can own the house outright by yourself, or your ownership interest can be "shared" or "equitable."
Shared property ownership is when you legally own the property with someone else (both of your names are on the deed). It doesn't matter who you own the land with or how the ownership is "titled" (as tenants-in-common, tenants by the entirety, or as joint tenants).
Equitable property ownership is when you have an ownership interest in a property even though your name isn't on the deed. You may have some equitable ownership in a house if you:
To show you meet the requirements of the home exclusion, you'll need to provide Social Security with some evidence.
You'll need different evidence depending on whether you are a sole or shared owner or an equitable owner in the home.
Sole or shared ownership. Here are some of the documents you can use to show you have a shared ownership in the home:
Equitable ownership. If you aren't listed as an owner of the home, you'll need to provide a statement of support from the person with whom you have the equitable ownership (the owner or lessor of the house). If you have evidence such as bills showing that you paid for additions or repairs to the home or you made mortgage payments, you should provide those as well.
SSI applicants or recipients who claim equitable ownership will have their case reviewed by the SSA's Regional Counsel. The Regional Counsel will give an opinion about whether the equitable ownership exists.
Unless you own more than one home, Social Security will assume that the property is your principal place of residence. However, if you own a second home (perhaps shared with family members), you must tell Social Security:
The SSA will then use this information to decide which home is your principal place of residence.
Generally, if you leave your home and don't "intend to return," the home will no longer be eligible for the SSI home exclusion. On the first day of the month after you leave, your house will begin to be counted as a resource for SSI.
However, there are a few exceptions to the rule so that you're unable to keep the home exclusion despite not being able to return.
Under some circumstances, even if you leave the house and don't intend to return, the SSA will still allow the value of your home to be excluded from your assets. Here are those circumstances.
A dependent relative is one who depends on you for any reason (such as for financial or medical help.). A relative includes:
Social Security may still allow you the home exclusion if you have to leave your home but can't return to it for reasons beyond your control. This can happen if, for example, you're hospitalized or your home is damaged.
In this circumstance, the SSA will make a decision based on your statement of whether you intend to return to the home and won't take into account the following factors:
Here are some examples.
If you have questions about the home exclusion, Social Security will be able to answer them for you. The SSA is available Monday through Friday, 800-772-1213. If you want to talk to someone in person, you can go to your local Social Security field office. Make sure you call your field office ahead of time to see if you need an appointment.
Updated September 6, 2023