How SSI Counts Your Income

The Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at your income when they decide if you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and how much your SSI benefits should be. (This evaluation of your income is different than what they do when they see if you have a disability.)

SSI is meant to help you pay for your basic needs, like food, shelter, and clothing. If you have other income, SSA expects you to spend it on these basic needs. The income you are expected to spend on basic needs is called your countable income.

If your countable income is the same as or higher than the maximum SSI benefits amount for a person in your living situation, you do not get monthly SSI benefits.

If your countable income is lower than the maximum SSI benefits amount for a person in your living situation, Social Security subtracts your countable income from the maximum SSI benefit and what is left is the SSI benefits amount you get each month.

Example

Billy applies for SSI. Billy lives alone and nobody helps him with his rent or food, so the most he could possibly get in SSI benefits each month would be $802.25. When Social Security looks at his application, they calculate that he has a total of $300 per month in countable income, so Billy ends up qualifying for $802.25 - $300 = $502 per month in SSI benefits.

Note: Even if your gross income is higher than the maximum SSI benefits amount, your countable income might be below the limit.

Earned and Unearned Income

Social Security counts your earned and unearned income differently:

  • Earned income is money you get from work you do, including salaries, wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees, or other compensation you get in exchange for work.
    • Social Security only counts about half of your earned income.
  • Unearned income is money you get in any other way, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); short- or long-term disability insurance; VA benefits; workers’ compensation; and income, dividends, or profits from a trust or investment.
    • Social Security counts almost all of your unearned income.

The bottom line: If you work, you usually end up with more money, because your SSI benefits only go down by about 50 cents for every dollar you earn. Learn more about rules that help people who work while they get SSI benefits.

The Countable Income Calculation

Social Security follows several steps when counting your income. Read about the steps and then get an idea of how your income affects your benefits.

Step 1: Countable Unearned Income

Start with your total unearned income. Subtract $20, the general exclusion that everyone gets. What’s left is your countable unearned income.

Countable Unearned Income:

Step 2: Countable Earned Income

Start with your gross earned income before taxes are deducted. If you’re self-employed, you subtract your work expenses before reporting your earned income, the way you do when you file your taxes.

Subtract anything left over from the $20 general exclusion (you only have money left over from the general exclusion if you had less than $20 in unearned income).

Then subtract another $65, the earned income exclusion that everyone who works gets. Also subtract any Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). Learn more about IRWEs.

Take what’s left, and divide that amount by two. The result is your countable earned income.

Countable Earned Income (Non-Blind SSI Recipients):

If you are blind, you use Blind Work Expenses (BWEs) instead of Impairment Related Work Expenses and the calculation is slightly different. Learn more about BWEs.

Countable Earned Income (Blind SSI Recipients):

Step 3: Total Countable Income

Add your countable unearned income to your countable earned income. If you have a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), subtract the amount you contribute to it. The result is your total countable income. Learn more about PASS in DB101's Building Your Assets and Wealth article.

Total Countable Income:

Step 4: Benefits Calculation

Start with the maximum possible SSI benefits amount for your living situation. Subtract your countable income. The result is your SSI benefits amount. If your countable income is larger than the maximum SSI benefit, you do not get SSI.

SSI Benefit Calculation:

Note: Working students can take some of their income out of the countable income calculation. Learn more about the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE).

Try this tool to see how much your benefits might be if you don't already get SSI benefits, pay for your own food and shelter, and aren't married. Learn more about how your living situation can affect your benefits.

Your SSI Benefit Calculation: