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ssi benefits

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program offered by the Social Security Administration helps older and disabled people who have a low income and limited resources. While it is oftentimes thought of in conjunction with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), it is actually a wholly different program. It isn’t difficult to apply for SSI, but the bar for entry to the program is fairly high. Make sure you know how you can qualify and what your benefit level may be before you apply.

What Is Supplemental Security Income?

Supplemental Security Income is a program that pays benefits to disabled (or blind) children and adults, as well as to adults age 65 and older who do not have a disability. The program provides supplemental income to individuals who have a limited income and few resources. Unlike other Social Security programs, including SSDI, the program is funded through general tax dollars rather than Social Security taxes. Individual situations determine the exact benefit level you will receive, explained in the section below.

President Richard Nixon is the father of this program, as it came through his welfare program reforms. It officially launched in 1974, taking state programs and rolling them into a federal program.

Again, remember that this program is separate from Social Security Disability Insurance, which is for working-age people who are too disabled to work. That program has different eligibility requirements, different benefit levels and a different application process. Though some people may end up applying to both programs, they are not the same and you’d have to apply to each separately.

Supplemental Security Income Limits and Benefits

ssi benefits

The federal benefit rate determines the benefit level for SSI. For 2019, that is $771 for individuals and $1,157 for couples. That is the maximum benefit you’ll receive. However, you could receive less based on other factors, including total income and assets.

There are limits to what your income and total assets can be in order to be eligible for SSI. The income limits are as follows:

  • $1,627 for individuals whose income is only from wages
  • $791 for individuals whose income is not from wages
  • $2,339 for couples whose income is only from wages
  • $1,177 for couples whose income is not from wages

There are also limits for the total resources that people receiving SSI can have. Resources includes both cash and assets that you can turn into cash through sale. The following resources do not count towards your limit, though:

  • The house you live in
  • One vehicle used for transportation
  • Life insurance policies with face values of $1,500 or less
  • Burial plots for you or your immediate family
  • Burial funds of up to $1,500
  • Household goods and personal items
  • Property used in business
  • Money set aside for a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)

The resource limits are for adults are $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. For kids, the limits are $4,000 for a child with one parent in the house and $5,000 for a child with two parents in the house.

How to Apply for Supplemental Security Income

ssi benefits

You can apply for SSI online on the Social Security Administration’s website. If you’d prefer, you can also go to your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213.

You’ll need the following items and information to complete your application:

  • Social Security number and proof of age
  • Names and contact information for doctors or healthcare professionals
  • Medication information, including dosages
  • Test results and labs
  • Work history summary
  • W-2 forms or federal tax returns
  • Proof of marriage and family members’ Social Security numbers

The Bottom Line

Supplemental Security Income helps people with low incomes and few resources who need more cash to get by. Disabled and blind adults, disabled children and people over age 65 who are not disabled may be eligible for the program. Though administered by the Social Security Administration, the program is funded by general tax dollars, not money from Social Security taxes. There is a monthly limit to how much a person can receive in benefits. Both income limits and benefits limits also apply, and limits are based on relationship and wage status. There are separate benefit limits for children.

Tips for Planning Your Financial Future

  • A financial plan is a good way to make sure your future is secure. Use SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service to find an advisor who can help you create one. You answer a few questions and we match you with up to three advisors in your area, all free of disclosures and fully vetted. You talk to each advisor, ask them questions and decide how you want to move forward.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/PeopleImages, ©iStock.com/YinYang, ©iStock.com/Ildo Frazao

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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