What Counts as Income for the SSI Disability Limit?

Social Security ignores a certain amount of cash income but counts certain types of non-cash items as income.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

You're only eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if your income falls under the SSI income limits. But income isn't just money you earn from a job. To level the playing field between SSI applicants, the Social Security Administration (SSA) counts the value of some free items as income—such as a room provided to you at no charge by a relative or friend.

But to encourage you to work and to account for some expenses, Social Security allows you to exclude some money from your countable income. Read on to learn what counts as income for SSI and what doesn't.

What's Considered Countable Income for SSI?

Social Security defines income as the amount of money you bring in as well as items you can use to get the following:

  • food
  • clothing, and
  • shelter.

In addition to your "earned income" (money you earn from working), Social Security considers all of the following countable income for SSI purposes:

  • Unearned income: payments or benefits you receive from any of the following:
  • Deemable income: a portion of the income earned by your spouse, parents, or other people in your household (Social Security counts a portion of this money, assuming it will go towards your living expenses).
  • In-kind income: free shelter, food, or other goods you're receiving from a nongovernmental source, like living rent-free with your parents or having a roommate who buys your food. (It's considered in-kind income because it's equivalent to the money you'd otherwise have to pay for food or shelter.

All of this income has to fall under the SSI income limit for you to qualify for SSI. And the SSA will calculate your countable income each month and subtract your countable income from the maximum SSI amount to come up with your monthly payment amount.

What Income Doesn't Count Toward the SSI Income Limit?

Social Security doesn't count some income and benefits when calculating your income for SSI eligibility. Social Security won't count the following income toward the SSI income limit :

  • $20 per month of income other than wages (unearned income)
  • $65 per month of wages (earned income) and half of your remaining monthly wages
  • wages that go toward special impairment-related work expenses (IRWE) for disabled persons or blind persons (BWE)
  • the first $30 of infrequent or irregularly earned income received in a quarter
  • the first $60 of infrequent or irregular unearned income received in a quarter.

Also, if you're a student under age 22, you can earn up to $2,290 per month—up to $9,230 per year (in 2024)—and it won't count as income for SSI purposes.

What Benefits Don't Count as Income for SSI?

Social Security doesn't consider the following benefits to be countable income:

  • food stamps
  • medical care
  • food or shelter provided by a nonprofit agency
  • reimbursement of expenses from a social services agency
  • housing or home energy assistance provided by a nonprofit or government agency
  • income tax refunds, and
  • tuition and scholarships used for educational expenses.

Note also that income set aside for an SSI "Plan for Achieving Self-Support" (PASS), a work incentive program, also isn't countable income. (Learn more about Social Security work incentive programs.)

For more information on what doesn't count as income for SSI, Social Security keeps an extensive list of earned and unearned income exclusions.

Updated December 29, 2023

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