How Much Money Can You Make and Still Get SSI?

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) adjusts the income limits and benefit payment amounts to account for increases in the cost of living. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is our focus in this blog, and we’ll go over how these increases affect your SSI.

At Scully Disability Law, our attorneys work to keep all our clients fully informed of changes that affect their SSI program benefits. If you have any questions about your SSI benefits, or if you want to know if you qualify for SSI benefits, call our office now at 800.628.1934 for help.

2022 SSI Income Eligibility Limits

The 2022 income limits to be eligible for SSI require that a benefit recipient’s unearned income be less than $861 per month. A couple who both get SSI must receive less than $1,261 a month in unearned income. Notice that this limit applies to “unearned” income. (But, see Countable Income below.)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) only counts some of your income when testing you for SSI benefits eligibility. We’ll explain what income is exempt from being counted later in this blog post. The SSA understands that the monthly SSI benefit payments are not enough to pay for all the daily needs of SSI recipients. The government assumes that other federal and state-paid programs for low-income and disabled family members will also contribute needed services and subsidies. As a result of this expected additional support, some of the help from other programs is not counted as income.

Earned Income and Unearned Income — What’s the Difference?

Earned and unearned income are treated differently by the SSA when considering SSI eligibility. To understand the difference, let’s first look at what is considered “income.”

For the SSI benefits program, the SSA defines income as,

“any item an individual receives in cash or in-kind that can be used to meet his or her need for food or shelter.  Income includes, for the purposes of SSI, the receipt of any item which can be applied, either directly or by sale or conversion, to meet basic needs of food or shelter.”

That means that any food or shelter you get for free, or for less than market value, counts as income.

  • Earned Income — Earned income is wages and self-employment net earnings, including any money or item received in exchange for services you provided, even as a disabled person working in a sheltered workshop.
  • Unearned Income — Unearned income is the income you receive that was not earned. This includes any Social Security payments, worker’s compensation or other state-paid disability payments, unemployment benefits, pensions, interest or dividends, and any cash you receive from friends or family.

What Get’s Counted by SSI as Income (Countable Income)

The amount of countable income and SSI recipient gets each month is subtracted from the maximum monthly SSI benefit payment amount; for 2022, that amount is $841 for individuals and $1,261 for eligible couples.

Countable Income

The SSI counts some income and doesn’t count other income when measuring your income against the allowable monthly income limit. Understanding which income is counted or not counted can make a big difference in the amount of money you can earn and how much your SSI benefit payment will be.

Countable Earned Income — When counting earned income, SSI excludes the first $65 earned per month plus up to another $20 from any unuse unearned income exemption that month. SSI also exempts half of the remaining earned income. The SSI benefit payment is reduced by the amount of the non-exempt countable income.

If you earned $600 one month and received no unearned income, the formula to determine the SSI benefit would look like this:

How Much Money Can You Make and Still Get SSI?

In this example, a person could earn $600 and still receive an SSI benefit payment of $583.50. The Social Security Administration suggests that under some circumstances, “[b]ecause a larger portion of earned income isn’t counted, a person who gets SSI can earn up to $1,767 a month ($2,607 for a couple) and still get SSI.

Other earned income exemptions include impairment-related work expenses, some funds saved for the SSI Program to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), and more.

Countable Unearned Income — Countable unearned income includes contributions to your rent by a roommate or another person other than funds received from state-paid or needs-based nonprofit organizations. The same applies to money or items that were given to you that you can use for food or shelter, clothes, or other in-kind gifts. Countable unearned income also includes payments SSDI, pensions, workers comp, unemployment, etc.

Non-countable unearned income is a much longer list. The SSI program does not count subsidies from state or local government needs-based programs, rent assistance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the first $20 of otherwise non-exempt unearned income, and the first $60 of irregular unearned income. Many other sources of unearned income are also exempt.

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