Important: We updated this article in December 2022 with the SSA’s current income limits for 2023. We recently we had a reader write in with the following: “My ex-wife is asking for $2,400 in monthly alimony. Is that considered income for SSI? I’m asking because she’s on SSI now for a disability. Wouldn’t this alimony payment set her over the income limit?” That’s a great question.
To begin with, did you know there are two different programs through the Social Security Administration (SSA) offering disability benefits?
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) aids disabled individuals who have a qualifying work history. Whereas a claimant’s lack of income and resources — not work history — is the determining factor for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI provides minimal basic assistance to older adults and persons with disabilities (regardless of age) who are deemed financially challenged.
It’s important to know the difference between these programs when determining what counts as income towards your disability claim. That’s because each program has its own set of rules and limits. The SSA checks your eligibility for both programs when you apply for any disability benefits, and if you don’t have enough work history for SSDI, you may likely get SSI instead. Though it’s possible to qualify for both, in most cases people usually get only one or the other.
However, the answer to the reader’s question is quite different for SSI versus SSDI.
What Are the Limits for SSDI Versus SSI?
People applying for SSDI cannot earn over $1,470 per month from work in 2023. That means alimony will not affect their claim since only earnings from work count. However, the situation is different for people with SSI for disability, and the calculation is much more complicated.
Income is still a determining factor for SSI benefits, but some income is exempt. And, the SSA says it includes “any item an individual receives in cash or in-kind that can be used to meet his or her need for food or shelter.” In other words, yes — alimony could affect SSI benefits. In the case of our reader, an alimony payment of $2,400 monthly would definitely put his ex-wife over the acceptable SSI limits.
The maximum monthly benefit available for SSI from federal funds in 2022 is $914 a month for an individual. The number jumps to $1,261 for a couple who are both eligible for the program. The SSA will subtract what it calls “countable income” from the benefit. If your countable income is greater than $841/$1,261, then you can’t receive SSI.
Is Alimony Considered Countable Income Towards SSI?
Alimony is definitely one type of income considered “countable” when doing an SSI calculation. But there are many other factors that go into this equation. Basically, there are four categories of countable income:
- Earned Income. This does include any wages earned from part-time work or self-employment. But when calculating your potential SSI benefit, the SSA lets you deduct the first $65 you make monthly. Then after that, they only count half your earnings in their calculations. Basically, you can earn about $1,700 monthly and still potentially get some SSI benefits.
- Unearned Income. This is where alimony comes into play. Unearned income is just like it sounds — money that you receive but don’t earn from gainful employment. This includes not only alimony, but things like child support, unemployment, workers’ comp, pension, interest, and Social Security payments. The SSA will deduct $20 of these funds from your calculation, but the remainder will count towards your SSI determination.
- In-kind Income. This is income you probably wouldn’t think of as income. It includes things like food or shelter you receive for free but would otherwise have to pay for. For example, if a friend buys your groceries, or your aunt pays your rent, that’s considered “in-kind support.” Any in-kind support could count in your SSI calculation.
- Deemed Income. If you live with your parents or spouse and they help pay for some of your expenses, that is “deemed income.” A portion of this may also factor into your SSI calculations.
Keep in mind that any assets you have will also count towards your eligibility for SSI. In other words, any stocks, savings, bonds, or cash you have cannot exceed $2,000 for an individual/$3,000 for a couple. If you have more resources than that, the SSA will reject your claim for SSI.
How Do I Know If I Earn Too Much for SSI?
The basic calculation for SSI goes like this: Your total income minus your uncountable income equals your countable income. Then, subtract your countable income from the SSI federal benefit rate for 2023, and that’s your SSI federal benefit rate. But that’s only if you qualify.
Still a little confused? You’re not alone. Determining potential SSI eligibility is tricky. But you know who can help? A lawyer who deals with disability claims on a daily basis. Especially since most disability lawyers work on a contingency basis.
If you have any questions about what is countable income, consider getting someone else to do the math for you. It’s like gaining all the knowledge and benefits, without having to do any homework yourself!
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online SSD benefits evaluation now!
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann
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