Can I Apply for Food Stamps if I Have a 401(k) Plan?

Can I Apply for Food Stamps if I Have a 401(k) Plan?
••• JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/GettyImages

Food stamp aid can be substantial depending on the size of your household. Food stamps help low-income families purchase food each month. While anyone can apply to receive food stamps, applications are only approved for households that meet the minimum program requirements. Having investment assets like a 401(k) plan can impact your eligibility for food stamps.


  • Although a 401(k) plan won't necessarily stop you from applying for food stamps, it can render you ineligible if it boosts your investment balance beyond maximum allowable levels.

Assessing Countable Resources

To qualify for food stamp aid, your household's countable resources must be less than $2,250, or $3,250 if at least one member of the household is at least age 60 or disabled. Countable resources include cash in a bank account, your 401(k) investment and such forms of supplemental income as alimony or child support. Owning a 401(k) doesn’t automatically disqualify you for receiving food stamp aid. If you're just starting a job or choose to contribute small amounts to your 401(k) each pay period, your investment balance may be well below $2,250. However, contributing the maximum amount available to your 401(k) can render you ineligible. The maximum you can contribute to your 401(k) account each year untaxed is $18,500 for 2018, up from $18,000 for 2017.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are exceptions to the amount you can claim in countable resources. Once your 401(k) investment rises above this threshold, you are ineligible for food stamp aid. Up to $4,650 of the fair market value of your vehicle may be included as a countable resource. Currently, 32 states exclude the value of all vehicles entirely, and 21 states limit the number of vehicles that can be counted.

Various Income Factors

In addition to countable resources, your income must meet the gross and net income tests to qualify for food stamp aid. Gross income is the amount you make before taxes, and net income is the amount you make after taxes. Currently, your gross income cannot exceed 160 percent of the poverty level, and your net income cannot exceed 100 percent of the poverty level. Each member of your household over the age of 18 must report income on your food stamp application. Documentation of your income is required in the form of a pay stub, or income tax return if you are self-employed.

Understanding Certification Periods

The length of time you receive food stamp aid is based on your financial need. If your financial records indicate that you will be ineligible for food stamps in a few months due to contributions to your 401(k), your certification period may be relatively short. Certification periods generally range between two and 12 months. However, with elderly and disabled household members present, your certification period can last up to 24 months with re-certification. All households receiving food stamps are required to re-certify at the end of their assigned certification periods.