Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility

SSI gives money each month to people who have disabilities, or are blind, and who have low income and low resources. If you qualify, you may get up to $802.25 in monthly SSI benefits and you also get Medicaid coverage automatically.

To get SSI, you have to meet certain rules. Some rules are the same, regardless of your age. For example, you must be a U.S. citizen or qualified alien. However, other rules depend on your age. The biggest changes involve:

  • How SSI decides whether you have a disability
  • Whose income and resources SSI counts to decide if you can get benefits

These rules are explained in four parts:

If you have questions after reading about the rules, talk to a Benefits Planner.

How to Apply for SSI

You can apply for SSI at your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-325-0778 (TTY).

SSI if You Are Younger than 18

If you are under 18, SSI says you are a child and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments cause severe limitations in your daily life, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Not everybody with a disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses, like food, rent, and utilities. If you are under 18, SSI decides whether you need help by looking at the money you and your parents earn and the resources you and your parents have, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate.

If you or your parents make too much money or have too many resources, you will not get SSI. The exact limits depend on the size of your family. A complete table of income limits for families with a disabled child is listed near the bottom of Social Security’s SSI for Children page.

Note: You can open an ABLE account where over time you can save up to $100,000 in resources and not have them counted by SSI. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

Note: Almost all children under 18 who get SSI benefits have them sent to a parent or guardian. This person is called a representative payee. Occasionally, people who are 16 or older can be their own payees, but they must meet strict criteria.

Parent-to-Child Deeming

SSI counts both your income and resources and your parents’ income and resources when you are under 18 because they expect your parents to pay for your living expenses. This is called parent-to-child deeming.

Example

SSI looks at your parents’ income and decides to lower your benefits amount by $250 due to parent-to-child deeming. Instead of giving you $802.25 per month, they give you $552.

Child Support

If you live with one parent and get child support from your other parent, SSI counts two-thirds of the child support as income. Child support can be food or shelter, not just a check. In that case, SSI figures out how much money that support is worth and counts two-thirds of it as income. Food and shelter can cause your benefits amount to be reduced by at most $257.00 per month.

Example

Your parent gets $300 each month from child support. SSI counts two-thirds of that and lowers your monthly SSI benefits amount by $200. Instead of giving you a $802.25 monthly benefit, they give you $602.

If You Get SSI and Are Turning 18

If you get SSI, you stop being a child for the program when you turn 18. As an adult, when SSI decides whether you have a disability, they use their definition of disability for adults, not their definition for children. The adult definition looks at your ability to work, not just your physical or mental limitations. As a result, some people stop getting SSI benefits after they turn 18.

To check whether your disability meets their standards for adults, during the first year after you turn 18, SSI does a review called the SSI Age-18 Redetermination.

SSI will say you have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

SSI may also look at your work and school records to see if you are able to work and may even talk to your teachers, counselors, or employers.

Disability determination and work at age 18

If you got SSI benefits before turning 18 and are now going through the SSI Age-18 redetermination, Social Security may say you have a disability, even if you are working, regardless of how much you make.

Possible Results of the Age-18 Determination

If your disability does not meet Social Security's adult definition of disability, you keep getting SSI benefits for two more months before they end. In this situation, you have two options if you still want to get SSI:

  1. You can appeal. When SSI sends you the letter telling you that your benefits are ending, you have 10 days to request an appeal. During the appeal process, you can ask that SSI continue your benefits until they make a decision. Learn more about appeals in DB101's SSI article.
  2. If you are in an employment support program, like Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), or any other program approved by SSI that helps you get a good job in the future, you can apply to continue benefits through a special rule called Section 301.

If SSI says that your disability does qualify and that you will continue to get benefits after turning 18, these factors could impact the amount you get each month:

  • Parent-to-child deeming ends. SSI stops counting your parents’ income and resources when considering your eligibility for benefits, which may help you get a higher benefits amount than before you were 18.
  • If you or your family gets child support for your living expenses, SSI now counts all of it as income. This may cause your benefits to go down.
  • Your living situation: If you live alone or pay your fair share of expenses as a roommate with others, your benefits amount may be higher than if you live with others who help pay for your food and shelter.
  • In-kind support and maintenance: If someone else helps pay for your food or rent, your benefits amount may be reduced by up to one-third ($257.00). This is called a Value Third Reduction (VTR).
Turning 18

Some people who get SSI before they are 18 lose it when they turn 18 because their disabilities don't meet Social Security's adult definition of disability. Other people who couldn’t get SSI before they were 18 due to parent-to-child deeming may now be able to get it.

SSI if You Are Already 18 or Older

If you are 18 or older and didn't get SSI before turning 18, SSI says you are an adult and have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
  • Your impairments limit your ability to work, preventing you from earning Substantial Gainful Activity ($1,220 per month if you’re not blind), and
  • Your condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months.

Note: If you are blind, you could be able to earn more than $1,220 per month.

Not everybody with a disability automatically gets benefits. You must also have no other way to pay for basic expenses like food, rent, and utilities. If you are 18 or older, SSI looks at your income and resources, including savings accounts, stocks, and real estate, to decide if you need help.

SSI's income limit depends on your living situation, including whether you are married, whether somebody helps pay for your housing or food, and other factors. Read about different income limits in DB101's SSI article.

SSI's resource limit is $2,000 for individuals. Some resources don’t count towards SSI’s resource limit, like the home you live in and one vehicle. Social Security has a complete list of excluded resources.

If you have a disability, your income is below the income limit, and your resources are below the resource limit, you qualify for SSI. The exact amount you get in SSI benefits depends on your living situation, your income, and whether you qualify for special SSI rules that can help you earn or save more money without reducing your benefits.

Keep track of your work-related expenses

If you work, you may have to spend money on things, like transportation, medical expenses, or accommodations, to do your job. If you have a disability, SSI may consider some of your expenses to be Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) and may not count the money you spend on them as income. If you are blind, the rules are a bit different and the expenses are called Blind Work Expenses (BWEs). Be sure to keep all receipts for expenses you think qualify as IRWEs or BWEs.

The bottom line: If you have IRWEs or BWEs, you may qualify for SSI even if you think your income is too high to get it. Or, you might get higher SSI benefits than you otherwise would.

SSI Rules that Help You Go to School, Work, and Save

SSI and many other government benefits programs have limits on how much income and savings you can have. If you go over the limits, you can't get benefits. This can make working and saving seem scary, because you might be afraid you'll lose your benefits.

That's why there are special rules and programs, like the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and ABLE accounts that can help you earn and save money without losing your SSI benefits.

Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE)

SSI has rules called exclusions that let you make some money without having your SSI benefits go down or stop. The Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE) is a major exclusion: it lets students earn up to $1,870 per month, and up to $7,550 per year, without having those wages be part of their countable income!

To qualify for the SEIE, you must be under 22, working, and regularly attending school. That usually means you have to go to school more than:

  • 8 hours a week for college students
  • 12 hours a week for grades 7–12
  • 12–15 hours a week for employment training

If you drop out of school, you will not qualify for the SEIE, and your SSI benefits will be smaller than they would be if you stayed in school. Stay in school! You get more money thanks to the SEIE, and when you graduate, you’ll get a higher paying job thanks to your degree.

Example

You make $1,000 per month at a summer job and during the school year, you make $400 each month at a work-study job. Combined, you make a total of $6,600 for the year. Since the money you make doesn’t go over the monthly and annual limits for the SEIE, your SSI benefits don’t go down at all.

Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

Usually, if you have too many resources or too much income, you stop qualifying for SSI. A PASS is a way to go over these limits without losing your benefits.

To set up a PASS, you must qualify for SSI, have a specific work goal, and have expenses that you need to pay to reach your goal, such as school tuition, transportation, books, and services. You must also show that after you start putting money into your PASS, you’ll still have enough money left over to pay for your basic living expenses.

Once your PASS is set up, any money you put into it doesn't count as income or resources for SSI. In this way, a PASS lets you earn more and save more without having your SSI benefits go down. You can also put unearned income into your PASS, which means that you can start saving even if you don’t have a job yet. Note: You cannot put your SSI benefits into your PASS.

Learn more about PASS in DB101's Building Your Assets and Wealth article or contact a PASS specialist.