The SSI program has strict limits on the amount of income and assets you can have and be eligible for SSI. Generally, those who earn less than $1,700 per month are eligible for a decreased SSI benefit. But determining whether you fall within SSI's income limits (as well as figuring out what your SSI payment might be) is pretty complicated.
We'll go over the key principles here, but know that your claims representative at the Social Security Administration (SSA) can tell you whether you will qualify under the income limits for SSI after looking at your finances.
The income limit for the SSI program is based on the "federal benefit rate" (FBR). The federal benefit rate is the maximum federal monthly SSI payment, and it's also the SSI income limit. In 2022, the FBR is $841 per month for individuals and $1,261 for couples. (The FBR increases annually if there is a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment.)
To qualify for SSI, your countable monthly income can't exceed the FBR. Social Security counts only some of your income when it determines whether your income is over the income limit. (This is called the "earned income exclusion.") For instance, if you're earning money from work, less than half of your monthly earnings are counted toward the income limit, so you can make more than $841 per month.
For 2022, if an individual only has income from work, he or she can earn up to $1,766 per month and still be eligible for a very small SSI benefit. This is because Social Security allows you to deduct part of your earnings from being counted toward SSI.
Here's an example to help you see how any income you make reduces your benefit. An individual earning $1,650 per month from work can subtract $65 of earned income, subtract another $20 for earned or unearned income, and then subtract half of the remainder. This works out to $782.50 of countable income. This number is slightly lower than the federal benefit rate ($841), so the individual would be entitled to an SSI payment of $58.50.
Here's another example of someone who makes less income. An individual earning $825 per month from work would have $370 of countable income. This number is substantially lower than the federal benefit rate ($841), so the individual would be entitled to an SSI payment of $471.
In addition, if you are participating in the Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) program, SSI allows you to set aside funds to help you get back to work; these funds won't count toward your income or asset limit for SSI.
Some "unearned" income will count against the SSI income limit, like alimony, veterans benefits, and free food and rent. In addition, if you're married, part of your spouse's income will count (more on this below). Not only that, but the SSI benefit amount for a married couple is approximately one and a half times the individual benefit amount, not twice the amount.
On the other hand, Social Security ignores some other types of income, like small gifts that you don't receive every month. For more information, see our article on what income counts and doesn't count toward the SSI limit.
There's another wrinkle that raises the income limits in most states: the "state supplement."
Most states add money to the federal SSI payment called a state supplement. This means that the allowed income level, as well as the SSI payments, are higher than the federal maximums in those states. Every state except Arizona, North Dakota, and West Virginia has a state supplement.
The amount of the state supplement varies between states, from about $10 to about $400. In some states, the amount of the state supplement can depend on whether you are single or married and on your living arrangements. For instance, some states pay a supplement only to those living in a nursing home; other states pay a higher supplement to those without full kitchens. For these reasons, unless you live in a state without a state supplement, it might be difficult for you to estimate whether your income falls under the SSI limit.
For more information, see our article on the supplemental payments, including state supplement amounts.
When a child SSI applicant (under the age of 18) applies for SSI, part of the parents' income is considered toward the SSI income limit. For the amount of income that Social Security will "deem" to a child, see our article on family income deeming.
Likewise, marriage can have a strong effect on your financial eligibility for SSI. SSI considers your entire household's income and resources, not just yours. Even if only one member of a couple is medically eligible for disability benefits, both spouses' incomes are considered to be part of the applicant's countable income. Fortunately, Social Security "deems" only part of a spouse's income to be available for your use. For more information, see our article on the deeming of marital income.
When Social Security first considers your eligibility for SSI, the agency uses an additional income limit: the substantial gainful activity (SGA) limit.
While the SSI income limit always applies, when the SSA first considers whether an applicant is disabled, the agency will apply the SGA limit. The SSI income limit determines whether you are financially eligible for SSI, while the SGA limit helps determine whether you are too disabled to make much income and, therefore, are medically eligible for SSI.
If an SSI applicant has monthly earnings of $1,350 or more in 2022, Social Security considers the applicant to be "engaging in substantial gainful activity" and won't consider the applicant disabled. (For more information, see our article on income limits due to substantial gainful activity.)
But after starting to receive SSI benefits, the SGA limit no longer applies. An SSI recipient can work and make more than $1,350 without losing disability benefits (under Section 1619 of the Social Security Act), as long as the recipient is still considered disabled.
Continuing SSI recipients are still bound by the SSI income limit discussed above though (currently about $1,700—for recipients who live in a state that doesn't pay an SSI state supplement). But remember, Social Security will deduct an SSI recipient's countable income from his or her SSI payment, meaning that those who work will receive an SSI payment that's less than the full amount.
The $1,350 SGA limit doesn't apply to blind applicants. Blind SSDI applicants are allowed to make up to $2,260 per month (in 2022) and still be considered disabled.
Blind SSI applicants or recipients didn't have an SGA limit. But that doesn't mean there's no income limit for blind SSI recipients.
The upper income limit for all SSI applicants—about $1,700 per month—does apply to blind SSI applicants and recipients. Also, many blind applicants and recipients have significant impairment-related "blind work expenses" (BWE), which can be deducted from their countable income. Deducting BWE lowers their earned income so that it doesn't lower their SSI payment as much. Examples of BWE include the cost of visual and sensory aids, service animals, and the cost of special transportation to and from work.
Updated March 9, 2022