What are deemed income and resources and how do they affect SSI payment amounts and qualifying for SSI Disability?
Learn about how deemed income and resources from your ineligible spouse can affect your SSI application and your qualifying for SSI disability ongoing.
The Definition of Deemed Income and Deemed Resources
Qualifying for SSI disability medically is one step in getting benefits. However, because SSI is a needs-based public assistance program, you must first meet the financial qualifications. Deemed resources and deemed income refer to the portion of your SSI-ineligible spouse’s income and resources that are considered to be yours and that are used in calculating your SSI payment and in determining whether you meet the SSI resource limit. This deeming applies only if your spouse is living with you. For a more information about deemed income and resources, see our article Why Do I Have to Give Information about My Family’s Income and Assets When I Apply for SSI Benefits?
Determining the Amount of Deemed Assets
If an SSI applicant or recipient is married and living with his or her spouse, the spouse’s countable assets are added to the SSI applicant’s countable assets. Then the total is compared to the SSI resource limit for couples, which in 2019 is $3,000.
Keep in mind that many assets are not considered resources for SSI. For example, a home that you live in, usually one vehicle used for family transportation, some burial funds and policies, pension funds, and several other kinds of assets are not deemable assets and do not count towards the resource limit.
Factors in Determining the Amount of Deemed Income
The amount of income that is deemed to an SSI applicant from his or her ineligible spouse depends on the amount of income the “deemer” has, whether the income is earned or unearned, on the number of non-SSI-eligible children in the household, on whether or not those children have income of their own, on whether or not the ineligible spouse is paying child support for a child outside the household, and on whether the ineligible spouse is sponsoring a non-citizen’s immigration to the U.S.
Deeming Income from Spouse to Spouse
Several steps are involved in calculating the amount of the spouse’s income, if any, that is deemed available to the SSI applicant.
First, if there are minor children in the household who are not eligible for SSI and who do not receive public income-maintenance payments, then an amount equal to the difference between the unreduced federal SSI rate for a couple and the unreduced federal rate for an individual is allocated and excluded for the child’s support. An allocation is also deducted for any alien that the ineligible spouse has sponsored. In 2019 the difference between the $1,157 couple SSI rate and the $771 individual rate is $386. The amount potentially allocated for each child or sponsored alien is reduced by the amount of most types of income the child or sponsored alien may have.
After these allocations are determined, they are used to reduce the ineligible spouse’s income, starting with any unearned income. If the spouse does not have enough unearned income of offset the allocations, the allocations will be applied to the spouse’s earned income, if any.
Here’s an example calculation:
Let’s say that an ineligible spouse has a $100 unearned income and $1,400 a month gross wages and the family has two ineligible children, one of whom receives child support in the amount of $200 a month. The eligible spouse has no income. Here’s how the Social Security Administration would figure out the amount of income to be deemed.
Children’s Allocation Calculation
$386.00 allocation for first child
– 200.00 child support
$ 186.00 net allocation for first child
+386.00 allocation for second child
$572.00 total children’s allocation
Calculation of Spouse’s Income after Children’s Allocations
$ 100.00 spouse’s unearned income
– 100.00 portion of children’s allocation
0 spouse’s remaining unearned income
$1,400.00 spouse’s earned income
– 472.00 remaining children’s allocation
$ 928.00 spouse’s remaining earned income
The next step is to compare the ineligible spouse’s remaining income to the difference between the federal SSI couple rate and the individual rate, which—as noted—in 2019 is $386. 00. If the remaining amount is less that the difference, deeming does not apply and the SSI applicant’s benefit is calculated based on his or her income alone.
In our example, the ineligible spouse’s remaining countable income of $928.00 is more than $386.00, so the calculation moves to the next step, which is to treat the SSI applicant and the ineligible spouse as an eligible couple for the purposes of determining eligibility and potential payment amount. This is done by combining the remainder of the ineligible spouse’s income after allocation for children with the SSI applicant’s income.
To continue with our example, we need to identify the income of the disabled member of the couple. In this example, we will say that the disabled person has unearned private pension income of $150 and has $120 in wages.
Unearned income calculation
$ 0 eligible spouse
+ 100.00 ineligible spouse’s remaining unearned
– 20.00 general income exclusion
$ 80.00 total countable unearned income
Earned income calculation
$ 928.00 ineligible spouse’s earned income
+ 0 eligible spouse’s earned income
$ 928.00 couple’s earned income
– 65.00 earned income exclusion
/ 2 second earned income exclusion
$ 431.50 total countable earned income
$1,157.00 SSI couple maximum rate
– 431.50 countable earned income
*The actual amount payable to the eligible person cannot exceed the amount that the eligible person would have received with no deeming involved.
It’s very important to report changes in household composition, admission to institutions, marriages, divorces, and births because all these may affect deemed income and the amount of SSI due.
It is worth mentioning again that many kinds of income are not counted in determining SSI eligibility. For a list of income that is excluded from deeming, see our article When I Complete My SSI Application Form, It Asks Me to Declare My Income. Does All My Income Affect My SSI?
Generally deeming does not apply if the spouse does not live with the SSI-eligible person. Exceptions include temporary absence, such as an ineligible spouse being absent due to a duty assignment as an active member of the armed forces or temporarily hospitalized.
Deeming does not apply if the SSI recipient becomes a resident of an institution and becomes eligible for the $30 SSI benefit rate.
Deemed income follows the general rule regarding when income counts, that is, two months following when it is received except when eligibility is just starting or re-starting after a month of ineligibility, after some changes in marital status or household composition, and a change in living arrangements such as coming out of an institution.
The explanations in this article cover the most common and simplest situations. The laws that govern SSI financial eligibility including deeming are very complex. If your income caused a denial when you were qualifying for SSI Disability or you believe that too much of your spouse’s income or assets were counted against your SSI benefit, an attorney well-versed in SSI and Social Security law can be very helpful when you file an SSI appeal.
For information about deeming from a parent to a disabled child, visit our article What Are Deemed Income and Resources and How Do They Affect an SSI Application for Children? For more information about deeming from sponsors to non-citizens and deeming from essential persons, see our articles How Can a Non-citizen Go About Qualifying for SSI Disability? and What Do I Need to Know About Qualifying for SSI Disability with an Essential Person?