What Is Supplemental Security Income, and How Do You Qualify?

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If you’re struggling to make ends meet, Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, can help fill in some of the gaps.

However, it can be difficult to qualify for the program. Income and resource limits are extremely low, and you’ll need to meet other requirements.

In this guide, we break down everything you need to know about SSI, including how it works, who’s eligible and how to apply.

What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program that provides financial assistance to people who are disabled or over age 65, and who have limited income and resources.

SSI was established in 1972 as part of the Social Security Act, and it’s administered by the Social Security Administration.

About 5 million people received SSI benefits in February 2023.

Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides benefits to individuals who have worked and paid into the Social Security system via taxes, SSI is a needs-based program that provides assistance to low-income people based on age or disability, regardless of their work history.

If you get SSI, you can usually get benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, too.

Who Gets SSI?

The majority of SSI beneficiaries — nearly 80% — are eligible due to a severe disability, including blindness. Roughly 1 million beneficiaries were children in February 2023.

Only about 20% of people who received SSI were age 65 or older and without a disability.

Children ages 18 and younger received the largest average monthly SSI payment at $785, while people ages 65 and older received the smallest average SSI payment, at about $554.

How Much Is an SSI Payment?

The maximum monthly SSI benefit in 2023 is $914 for an individual and $1,371 for a couple.

Not everyone receives the full benefit though because payments vary from person to person.

Some states provide additional monthly financial assistance, which could boost your payment. Or your payment could be lower, depending on how much countable income you have (more on that shortly).

The average SSI monthly benefit was $675 in February 2023, according to the Social Security Administration.

How Is SSI Different From Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?

The biggest difference between these two programs is that SSI eligibility is based on either age or disability as well as limited income and resources. In contrast, SSDI eligibility is based on disability and work credits.

People who have never worked before (such as children) may be eligible for SSI if they’re disabled, so long as they meet income criteria. SSDI, meanwhile, doesn’t have income restrictions: It’s tied to how long you were employed and paid Social Security taxes.

Another difference: States usually provide Medicaid to SSI recipients, but SSDI eligibility generally triggers Medicare eligibility after 24 months.

SSDI payments also tend to be larger on average than SSI payments.

That’s because SSDI is based on how much you worked. The more work credits you have, the higher your SSDI payment will be.

SSI, on the other hand, has a maximum benefit of $914, adjusted slightly each year for inflation.

This graphic shows the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration, but that's where the similarities end. To be eligible for SSDI, the disability keeps you from working at least a year, or it is deadly. You also paid Social Security taxes. To be eligible for SSI, you have a disability or are over the age of 65, and have limited income and assets. You are not required to have paid into Social Security. The maximum monthly benefit for SSDI depends on what you paid in Social Security taxes. The maximum monthly benefit for SSI is $914 in 2023. For medical eligibility, you have to wait 24 months after you’re approved for SSDI to get Medicare. There is no waiting period after you’re approved for SSI for Medicaid. About 8.8 million people receive SSDI benefits in 2023. About five million receive SSI benefits in 2023.

Can You Get SSI and SSDI at the Same Time?

Yes, it’s possible to receive benefits from both programs.

However, you’ll probably only qualify for both if your SSDI benefit is small.

That’s because the Social Security Administration considers SSDI payments as part of your countable income (only $20 is excluded). So if your SSDI benefit (or Social Security retirement benefit) exceeds $934, you don’t qualify for SSI.

If your SSDI payment is less than $934, you may qualify for SSI, but your monthly benefit will be reduced by the amount of your SSDI.

There are a few reasons why someone might have an SSDI payment small enough to qualify for SSI. If you don’t have much work history, or worked a low-wage job, or got paid “under the table” and didn’t pay Social Security taxes for a large part of your working years, you may not have enough work credits to get a sizable SSDI payment. In these cases, SSI can help fill in the gaps.

How to Qualify for SSI

To qualify for Supplemental Security Income, you must have limited income and resources.

  • What counts as resources: Cash, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds. The home you live in doesn’t count, and one vehicle likely doesn’t count either.
  • What counts as income: Money from wages, Social Security benefits, pensions, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, as well as money from friends or relatives.

In 2023, your resources can’t exceed $2,000 in assets for individuals and $3,000 for couples.

Calculating what Social Security counts as income for SSI is pretty complex.

For example, money that you earn from employment counts, but not all of it. SNAP benefits, educational scholarships and grants, home energy assistance and income tax refunds also don’t count.

Check out this list from the SSA to see what does and does not count as income.

Here’s how much you can make and still receive SSI:

  • $1,913 for individuals whose income is only from wages, and $934 for individuals whose income is not from wages.
  • $2,827 for couples whose income is only from wages, and $1,391 for couples whose income is not from wages.

Finally, you must be a U.S. citizen or meet certain requirements to qualify for SSI.

How Does Income Impact Your SSI Benefit Amount?

Generally, the more countable income you have, the smaller your SSI benefit will be.

The basic monthly SSI benefit in 2023 is $914 for an individual and $1,371 for a couple.

Your countable income reduces that benefit amount. For example, if you receive $500 a month from Social Security retirement benefits, the first $20 is excluded from your income. Then, $480 (countable income) is subtracted from the SSI benefit amount ($914 for individuals). This would make you eligible for an SSI benefit amount of $434, assuming you have no other income.

How to Apply for SSI

You can request an appointment to apply for SSI by providing some basic Information through this online request form.

It takes about five to 10 minutes to complete the appointment request, and no documentation is required.

A Social Security representative will then schedule an appointment to help you apply for SSI. You’ll get notified about your appointment date by phone, mail or email seven to 14 business days after submitting your request.

You can also apply for SSI by visiting your local Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Social Security representative will be able to walk you through the application process, but be prepared. The actual application is lengthy and requires extensive documentation about your income and resources, as well as your disability (if you qualify based on disability).

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, Medicare, investing and taxes.