How Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships Are Treated for SSI Disability

Social Security will ignore financial aid, scholarships, and grants when assessing your eligibility for SSI.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based disability program offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for SSI benefits, you need to first show that you meet certain income and asset guidelines. Earning too much money, or having too many "resources," can disqualify you for SSI even if you'd otherwise meet the SSA's definition of disability.

Fortunately, not all assets count towards the income and resource limits for SSI. If you're receiving financial aid, grants, or scholarships to continue your education, you might not have to count that money as income or resources for the purpose of the SSI eligibility threshold.

What Are the Resource and Income Limits for SSI?

Broadly speaking, the resource limit for SSI eligibility is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. Some things, like your primary home and the main car you drive, aren't considered when the SSA calculates your assets. For more information, see our article about how many resources you can have and still qualify for SSI.

You can work part-time up to a certain amount without being disqualified for SSI, but your earnings will reduce the amount of monthly benefit you'll receive, and if you make too much money, you can become ineligible for SSI. To learn more about income limits, see our article on Income Limits and SSI Disability Eligibility.

Can I Get Financial Aid While on Disability?

Many popular types of student aid don't count toward the resource or income limits for SSI and won't disqualify you for benefits if you receive them. For example, any financial aid you receive from the federal government under Title IV of the Higher Education Act or the Bureau of Indian Affairs won't count as assets, including:

You can use the money received from the above programs for any reason (such as food, housing, or utilities) and Social Security won't count it towards the SSI asset limits.

Do Other Grants, Scholarships, or Gifts Count as Income?

Money you receive from your family, friends, nonprofit organizations, or private businesses isn't automatically excluded from income. You'll need to use these kinds of student aid towards tuition, fees, or necessary educational expenses—otherwise they will count as income for SSI purposes.

Necessary educational expenses include:

  • supplies like paper, pens, and notebooks
  • textbooks
  • student activity costs, such as lab fees, and
  • any disability-related expenses needed for you to go to school (for example, if you need specialized transportation because you can't drive or take a bus).

You have nine months after receiving other grants, scholarships, or gifts to pay your school expenses. Any money left over after you've paid your educational expenses will count as income or resources towards the SSI asset limit, and if you use the money on something other than educational expenses, Social Security will count that as income earned in the month that it's not used for school.

Any interest or dividends you're paid on the unspent educational grants, scholarships, fellowships, or gifts are counted as income (for example, if you receive a gift of stocks or bonds).

Will Social Security Pay for College?

Social Security disability doesn't have a specific education benefit. But if you're receiving SSI or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), you don't have to report all of your benefits as income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can make it easier for you to get loans, grants, and scholarship to help pay for your education.

What Disability Income Do I Have to Include on the FAFSA?

Whether the FAFSA requires you to include your disability benefits from Social Security depends on the type of benefit, and the amount, that you're receiving.

  • SSI. You don't have to report any amount of SSI income on the FAFSA, so your benefits shouldn't affect your eligibility for financial aid, Pell grants, or student loans.
  • SSDI. One-half of your annual SSDI benefit counts toward your adjusted gross income (AGI), the standard by which FAFSA determines your eligibility for financial aid. (Keeping your AGI low can qualify you for income-sensitive aid.) But if the total amount of one-half of your SSDI benefits plus your other income is less than $32,000, you don't have to count SSDI at all or include it on your FAFSA.

Contact the SSA

Make sure you contact the SSA if you're unsure about how educational financial aid will affect your SSI benefits. You can call the SSA at 800-772-1213 or visit your local field office to speak with someone in person.

Updated August 17, 2022

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