If you’re a beneficiary of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and you also have a job or other income stream, is it possible to earn too much money? The answer is yes. And if you do earn too much money, you could see your SSI benefits reduced or even revoked altogether. There are ways to work around the asset and income limits, however, through the use of ABLE accounts.
- SSI beneficiaries are subject to limits on how much monthly income they can earn, and how much they have in assets or “countable resources.”
- For beneficiaries who earn more than the income limit or who breach the resource limit, SSI benefits can be reduced or revoked altogether.
- To qualify, individuals cannot earn more than $1,767 per month or own more than $2,000 worth of assets.
- Beneficiaries can use ABLE accounts to help find a way to work around the income and asset limits, potentially preserving their SSI benefits.
Who Is Eligible for SSI?
People who receive SSI benefits are generally older or have a disability that prevents them from working. Beneficiaries receive funds from the government to help them pay for their basic living expenses, such as food, clothing, and shelter.
“It’s a needs-based system,” says Mary Anne Ehlert, a certified financial planner and founder of Protected Tomorrows, a financial planning firm focused on helping families with members who have special needs. “SSI benefits are for someone who doesn’t have income, hasn’t paid into the system (which differentiates SSI from Social Security benefits), and who needs help." The program is income and asset-based. “You need to prove you can’t make money and have no assets," Ehlert notes.
Income and Asset Limits for SSI Benefits
There is both an income and asset limit that beneficiaries cannot breach in order to get or retain their SSI benefits. For 2022, an individual beneficiary cannot earn more than $1,767 per month in wages or have more than $2,000 in assets.
“SSI beneficiaries technically cannot be gainfully employed,” says Cynthia Haddad, co-founder of Special Needs Financial Planning, a specialty practice of Affinia Financial Group. Haddad says that beneficiaries also must prove that “approval is based on your ability to work,” and that the Social Security Administration will look at whether or not you’re able to work in addition to whether a beneficiary qualifies for SSI based on their income and assets.
Further SSI Income and Asset Limit Considerations
Individuals can receive a maximum monthly federal SSI payment of $841 as of 2022, or $1,261 for a couple. And again, the income limit for an individual is $1,767, or $2,607 for a couple—if that income comes from wages. Those numbers change annually too. Given that SSI benefits are meant for those who can’t work due to a disability, Ehlert says that “if you can make more than [the income limit], the SSA takes that as a signal that you’re not disabled.”
As for the asset limit, there are some notable exceptions as to what’s counted among what the SSA calls “countable resources”—another word for assets. Again, total countable resources cannot amount to more than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a couple, and that includes cash in bank accounts, investments, and even life insurance policies. It doesn’t include, however, the following:
- Your home and property it’s on
- One vehicle, if it’s used for transportation
- Household goods and personal belongings
- Burial plots and burial funds up to a certain limit
- Up to $100,000 in an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account
What Happens If I'm Over the Limit?
The SSA will calculate a beneficiary’s countable income when determining eligibility for, or potential changes to, SSI benefits. As for what happens when you’re over the limit? There are a lot of factors to consider, such as whether your income was earned or not, and if your SSI benefits are being supplemented by your state.
Generally speaking, your benefits will be gradually reduced, and eventually terminated, if your income breaches the limits, according to Ehlert. After $85 in monthly income ($65 in earnings, and $20 of any type of income), the SSA will reduce benefits by one-half of earnings for the month. “For beneficiaries, the first $85 in monthly income is free in the eyes of the SSA,” Ehlert says, “but after that, half is taken away from their SSI check.” Benefits will likely be terminated if a beneficiary’s income is around $1,750 per month.
Not all of your income is counted toward the SSI limit. For instance, when the SSA determines your eligibility, it does not count the first $65 earned from working, and one-half of earnings over that amount earned in a given month. You should contact the SSA to learn more, but there are other stipulations to the income limit beneficiaries should be aware of.
How to Use ABLE Accounts as a Workaround
Both Haddad and Ehlert point to ABLE accounts as a potential way for beneficiaries to work around the income and asset limits for SSI benefits. ABLE accounts were created under the same part of the tax code as 529 plans, and beneficiaries who do find themselves with extra funds—which may put them over either the asset or income limit—can stash those funds in an ABLE account, where they won’t be counted until the account contains more than $100,000.
“ABLE accounts are very similar to 529 plans, and up to $16,000 per year can go into those accounts,” says Ehlert. “And family members and friends can also make contributions.”
Special Needs Trusts and SSI Eligibility
An individual may have a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust), which is designed to hold assets for a disabled person while preserving their eligibility for government benefits, like SSI payments. These trusts help cover expenses beyond what SSI or other government benefits may provide for, but the assets contained in them don’t count toward an income or asset limit—as long as the money is spent on qualifying expenses.
Special needs trusts have some characteristics in common with ABLE accounts, but a key difference is that they’re designed to complement or supplement government benefit programs. Like ABLE accounts, distributions should be used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and for items or services that SSI benefits do not provide.
Can I Get SSI Benefits for My Disabled Child?
If you want to get benefits for a disabled child, the same eligibility rules (income and asset limits) apply to the child’s parents, up until the child turns 18. “At 18, if the child has a disability, they become eligible on their own,” says Haddad. The child will then need to go through a process of proving that they are unable to work (a process that can take many months) and thus need SSI benefits to cover their living expenses.
Will My State Supplement My SSI Benefits?
Most states supplement federal SSI payments. The only states that do not are Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia, along with the Northern Mariana Islands. Some states pay and administer their own supplement payments as well. Beneficiaries will need to contact their states to get more information regarding the size and scope of their SSI supplemental payments.
The Bottom Line
There is both an income and asset limit for beneficiaries of SSI: The income limit for an individual is $1,767, or $2,607 for a couple, with asset limits of $2,000 and $3,000. If beneficiaries breach that limit, their benefits will be reduced by the SSA, and potentially terminated. But beneficiaries can use ABLE accounts as a potential workaround if the account contains less than $100,000.