One: You are Working
If you are working or getting money some other way, your check will be lower. The formula is complicated and there are special rules. As a general guideline: for every two dollars you earn, your check may be lowered by one dollar.
Two: You are Not Paying Rent
If someone is paying your rent, paying your mortgage, paying your utilities, paying for your food, or giving you a free place to stay, this will make your SSI check lower. There are a few exceptions. Learn more.
Three: You are Paying Rent but You are Not Paying the Right Amount of Rent
If you are living with other people, then it is important to be covering your share of the rent or mortgage, utilities, and food. Paying the Right Amount of Rent or Mortgage can make a difference in your SSI check. Paying little or no rent is the number one reason why people get a low SSI check. Some people get a low check for many years this way.
Four: Someone is Trying to Help You But They Are Really Hurting You
There are many ways someone is allowed to support you, and many ways they are not. For example, you will have zero problems with your SSI if someone pays your phone bill, car insurance, or medical bills. You will have zero problems with your SSI if someone gives you money in a Special Needs Trust or an ABLE account. You will have zero problems if someone loans you money, even if you pay it back $1 per month. On the other hand, you will have massive problems with SSI if someone gives you cash, or food, or pays your share of the rent, or gives you a free place to stay. Learn the regs to avoid massive problems.
Five: Your Check is Not Really Low
Maximum SSI is $735 per month. In Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, and Vermont it is $750-$800. In California, it is $895 (but you are not allowed to apply for food stamps). Your state should automatically add this state supplement. If it is not being added, inquire with Social Security. If your check is already at the maximum SSI amount, you don’t need to reading this article probably won’t help you.
Six: You Are Married
Sorry, sometimes married people only get a small amount of SSI. It will depend if your spouse is working, how much income they make, how many kids you have, how many cars or houses you have, and how much savings you both have. If you are divorced or separated and live apart from your spouse, they will not count your spouse’s income (unless your spouse is paying your rent or giving you money).
Seven: You Gave Debt Collectors Permission to Take Money
If debt collectors are taking money directly from you bank account, this is because you have given them permission. You do not have to do this and in most cases you probably do not want to do this. Learn your options and rights for dealing with Credit Cards, Medical Bills, Student Loans & IRS
Eight: You Have an Overpayment
Sometimes Social Security gives you too much money and then later wants the extra money back. If you can’t pay it back, they may lower your future checks. If the overpayment was not your fault, you have the right to appeal the decision and/or request an overpayment waiver. Appeals and waivers are almost always denied at first. Be persistent and keep appealing, it may take three or four different appeals. You do not need a lawyer, you can fill out the forms yourself.
Nine: Your Life Has Changed but Your Check Has Not Changed
Changes to your check don’t happen by magic. Some people think Social Security will always send them the correct amount of money and if their life changes their check will just magically adjust to the correct amount. No, no, no. You must make the magic happen. SSI checks will often go up or down because of marriage, divorce, separation, starting working, stopping working, or change in household income.
Ten: Social Security Made a Mistake
If SSI ever lowers your check, and you don’t agree or don’t understand why, you have the right to appeal within 60 days. A regular disability lawyer will not help you with this situation. Your local nonprofit low-income legal aid center may help. However, you do not need a lawyer, you can just send in a request for reconsideration form. If that doesn’t work, don’t give up, you can appeal. If SSI is continuing to make a mistake with your check, contact your Congressperson. They may be able to help.
Learn the Regs
SSI Regulations can be confusing and difficult to find and understand! Many people break the regulations simply because they do not know what they are. I am gathering them together here: All the SSI Regs
Social Security won’t tell you that you can do these things, but you can! You have to call and make an appointment and request them:
💛 If you first became disabled before the age of 22, when one of your parents dies, retires, or becomes disabled, you may be able to collect Social Security off your parent’s income record. In some cases: bigger check!
💛 If you are widowed, starting at age 50, you may be able to collect widow’s benefits. That is not a typo, if you are disabled it starts at age 50. In some cases: bigger check!
💛 If you are divorced from someone who died, starting at age 50, you may be able to collect widow’s benefits. In some cases: bigger check!
💛 If you are married or divorced, in some cases you may be able to collect spousal benefits instead of your own benefits. Don’t do this at age 62, wait and do it when you reach full retirement age. Social Security will usually do this for you automatically, but not always. In some cases: bigger check!
It’s a Mystery!
If you don’t know why your check was lowered, you can contact your caseworker at Social Security and ask if they can help you by explaining why your check is not currently at maximum SSI. Make sure to let them know you are not requesting a new SSI interview right now, you are just asking them to explain to you the last decision that was made. You want to figure out what the problem is before requesting a new interview.
It is best to talk directly to your caseworker. Ask to speak to the person who handles your case, or to speak with a Service Representative who specializes in SSI. Do not ask the random person who answers the phone or stands behind the ticket window or you may be told something weird. If you speak directly with your caseworker, there is a better chance you will get an accurate answer, but definitely not guaranteed.
If you spoke with your caseworker but you are still having trouble understanding what is going on with your SSI check, you can post below or check out this page on How to Escape the Information Black Hole
After you talk to your caseworker, you will know why your check is low, but you may not know if there is anything that will change your check. Unless you read this: Things that Can Make an SSI Check Go Up or Down