The Definition of Income
Income for SSI is money or in-kind goods that can be turned into cash to pay shelter and food expenses. In-kind income is also the payment of food and shelter by another person. If you are married, the Social Security Administration considers the income your spouse receives. If you are a child under eighteen, the income your parents receive is evaluated in determining your payment amount. All this income must be declared on your SSI application form.
Earned income is compensation for work activity. Please visit “I Want to Work. Can You Tell Me How to Get SSI While Working?” for a discussion of earned income and earned-income exclusions. All other income is unearned. This article focuses on unearned income. Some of the types of countable income are disability and retirement benefits, worker’s compensation, inheritances, and cash awards and prizes.
Understanding Income for your SSI Application Form
The more countable income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the SSI income limit, you cannot receive SSI. In 2016, to be eligible for a federal SSI payment, as an individual your countable income must fall below $753. Eligible couples income must be under $1,120.
When completing an SSI application form, it is important to list all your cash income and all in-kind income, including expenses that are paid for you by another person. If you were to take a guess on what was countable income, even if you had done a little research, you might be wrong because SSI laws regarding income are detailed and include a lot of exceptions. Further, if you were to omit countable income from your SSI application, you could leave yourself open to overpayments and even to fraud charges.
Income That Doesn’t Affect SSI
There are many, many unearned income exclusions. Some of them apply all the time and other apply only in certain circumstances. Some are provided for by SSI law and others are mandated by other federal laws. Many apply both to the income of the SSI applicant and the income of others who deem income to the applicant. For an explanation of deemed income, please see “Why Do I Have to Give Information about My Family’s Income and Assets When I Apply for SSI Benefits?” For a list of income excluded from deeming, see “Income Excluded from Deeming When Qualifying for SSI Benefits.”
The first $20 of unearned income, whether in cash or in-kind is excluded. Irregular or infrequent income of $60 or less per calendar quarter is also excluded. For information on in-kind support and maintenance and the limits to which it can be counted, see our article “Why Will Social Security Ask about My Living Arrangements When I Apply for SSI Disability?”
There are more than fifty other unearned income exclusions that may apply to your SSI claim. Some of the most common are:
- The value of food stamps, now called Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP.
- Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, often called WIC.
- Income tax refunds.
- Most home energy assistance to help you pay your heating bill.
- Assistance based on need that is funded by your state or local government.
- Grants, scholarships, and other income received to pay educational expenses, as long as they are in fact used for education.
- Income set aside for a Plan to Achieve Self-Support.
- Many forms of Housing and Urban Development subsidies and some other housing subsidies.
- School lunches and breakfasts.
- Foster care payments.
- Third-party payments for expenses that are not food or shelter, such as telephone and medical bills.
- Death benefits that are used for the deceased person’s final illness and funeral expenses.
- Shelter received from private, non-profit organizations.
Again, you do not have to sort out what income counts and what does not when you complete your SSI application form. The Social Security Administration will determine what counts and what does not, and they’ll let you know.