Income Limitations on SSI Benefits

With Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration provides monthly payments to low-income U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens if they are aged 65 or older, blind or disabled. SSI payments provide a financial lifeline to the elderly and disabled who cannot work or cannot find employment due to their condition. The SSA sets resource and income tests in order to provide assistance to U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens who truly require financial assistance.

Earned Income

The Social Security Administration defines earned income as wages, self-employment earnings, royalty payments and monies received from disability workshop programs. As of 2010, an individual cannot make more than $1,433 in earned income per month, while couples cannot exceed $2,107 in income per month to qualify for SSI benefits. Under the Student Earned Income Exclusion, disabled students under the age of 22 can earn up to $1,640 in gross income per month up to a maximum limit of $6,600 a year and still qualify for benefits.

Unearned Income

According to the SSA, unearned income includes Social Security benefits, retirement payments, annuities, state disability payments, investment income, unemployment insurance benefits and cash gifts from friends and family. If someone provides a cash gift to an SSI recipient to pay for necessary expenses, such as medical or telephone bills, these gifts do not count toward income limits. As of 2011, an individual cannot earn more than $694 in unearned income per month, and couples cannot make more than $1,031 per month to qualify for SSI benefits.


The first $20 of unearned income and $65 of earned income made in a month does not count toward eligibility benefits. In addition, the SSA does not count income tax refunds, disaster assistance payments, food stamps, education grants, state or local assistance payments, shelter and food provided by non-profit agencies, irregular sums of income earned infrequently and home energy assistance. Loans that a recipient has to pay back do not count toward income limits.


Regardless of how little income an SSI applicant makes, he does not qualify for the program if he owns too many resources. In general, a single applicant must not have more than $2,000 in countable resources, and a couple cannot have more than $3,000 in countable assets. According to the SSA, countable resources include check and savings account balances, real estate investments, bonds and stocks. The SSA does not count a car, life insurance policies and burial funds under $1,500, an applicant’s primary residence and cemetery plots as countable assets.