You are eligible for SSI only if your income falls under the income limits of the SSI program. Income isn't just money you make from a job, however. In order to level the playing field between SSI applicants, the Social Security Administration (SSA) counts the value of free items, such as a room provided by a relative at no charge to you, as income. But in addition, to encourage you to work and to account for some expenses, the SSA allows you to exclude some money from your countable income.
How Does the SSA Define Income?
The amount of money you make, called your income, includes not just cash, but items that can be used as -- or used to obtain -- food, clothing, or shelter. Specifically, the SSA counts the following as income.
- Money you earn as a result of performing work (this is called "earned" income because you have to do something to earn it).
- Payments you receive from such sources as Social Security, veterans benefits, a pension, alimony, or child support (this is generally called "unearned income" because you don't do anything to get it each month).
- Any type of free rent/shelter or food benefits you are receiving from a nongovernmental source. For example, if you are allowed to live rent free with a friend or your parents, this will be considered as income (this is called "in-kind" income because it isn't actually income, but it is essentially equal to earning the amount of money you would otherwise have to pay for the food, rent, and life necessities being provided to you).
- A portion of income earned by other people in your house (like your spouse). This is called "deemed" income, because although you don't earn it, it is assumed that a portion of this money will go towards your care and upkeep.
What Income Is Excluded From the SSI Income Limit?
The SSA does not count the following income and benefits when calculating your income level:
- $20 per month of income other than wages (unearned income)
- $65 per month of wages (earned income) and one-half of wages (earned income) over $65
- wages that go toward special impairment-related work expenses (IRWE) for disabled persons or blind persons (BWE)
- the first $30 of infrequent or irregularly received earned income in a quarter
- the first $60 of infrequent or irregularly received unearned income in a quarter
- medical care
- reimbursement of expenses from a social services agency
- food stamps, and
- housing or home energy assistance.
Generally, if someone gives you an item that can't be used as -- or used to obtain -- food, clothing, or shelter -- it will not be considered as income. For example, if someone pays a doctor's bill for you, it won't be counted as part of your income.
In addition, income set aside for an SSI "Plan for Achieving Self-Support" (PASS) is not counted.
To learn about the dollar amounts for the SSI income limits, see our article Income Limits & SSI Disability Eligibility.