How SSI Counts Your Income

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

When they look at your income, Social Security will calculate that you should be spending some of it on your basic needs. The part of your monthly income that SSI expects you to spend on basic needs is called your countable income.

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

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

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

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 $771. When Social Security looks at his application, they calculate that he has a total of $300/month in countable income, so Billy ends up qualifying for $771 - $300 = $471 per month in SSI benefits.

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 physical or mental 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’ll usually be better off, because your SSI benefits will 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

The exact way Social Security counts your income is pretty complicated. Read about the different steps in the calculation 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 will 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. Subtract any contribution to a Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). The result is your total countable income. Learn more about PASS.

Total Countable Income:

Step 4: Benefits Calculation

Start with the maximum possible SSI benefits 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 will not get monthly SSI benefits.

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).

If you're not already on SSI benefits, pay for your own food and shelter, and are not married, try the following tool to see how much your benefits might be. Learn more about how your living situation can affect your benefits.

Your SSI Benefit Calculation: