How to Stay Out of Hot Water with SSI

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Art: Robin Mead.

SSI Regulations can be confusing and difficult to find and understand.

Sometimes people break the rules because they don’t know what the rules are!

Sometimes people get their check lowered and have no idea why or what happened!

Sometimes people are told they owe Social Security money back, even though they reported everything they were supposed to!

Luckily, none of these things will happen to you. This page contains the most important rules you need to know so SSI can feel less confusing and easier to navigate.

Who Should Read This Page?

  • People on SSI – Yes! Read this page.
  • People on SSI plus SSDI – Yes! Read this page.
  • People on SSI plus Disabled Adult Child Benefits – Yes! Read this page.
  • People on SSDI only – No! Don’t read this page.
  • People on Disabled Adult Child Benefits only – Maybe! You don’t need to follow these rules for Disabled Adult Child Benefits, but in some cases, you may need to stay within the SSI limits to keep Medicaid.

What’s What?

Eligibility

Applying 

Surviving  

SSI Interviews

You will be contacted for this when you first apply and/or right after you are approved and/or every year or so while you are on SSI. What happens and what will they ask? How to Handle an SSI Interview (PERC)

SSI Resource Rules

Special rules about stuff you own and money in the bank:

SSI Income Rules

Special rules about stuff you get or money you are given:

Feeling Confused?

What To Do About Nice People Who Want to Give You Stuff

What To Do With Money 

Living Arrangements

How you live and who you live with can affect your SSI check.

How Much Rent or Mortgage to Pay

How much rent or mortgage you pay can affect your SSI check

SSI Ups & Downs

Things that can make your check stop or start or go up or go down.

Deeming

Your SSI may be affected by your parent’s finances (if you are under age 18) or by your spouses finances (if you live with your spouse). This is called deeming. There are a few exceptions: How to Avoid Deeming

Adult Child Benefits

If you first became disabled before the age of 22 (no matter what age you are now) you may be able to go off SSI and instead get Adult Disabled Child Benefits. This is good! You want this.

Debt

Debt collectors cannot garnish your SSI check for any reason under any circumstances. But they can annoy you and they can try to freeze your bank account. Luckily, there are some laws that protect you: Debt & Disability

Working and SSI

Reporting

Overpayments

Inheritance

If You Have Questions

SSI financial regs are complex, and the people who answer the phones at Social Security often give out wrong information in this area. We have heard from many readers who wound up in a wide variety of bad situations this way.

If you would like to research the policies yourself, they are all available here: Program Operation Manual. The search feature does not work, but you can search this manual here: Working Search Feature. Much easier to read and understand, but not as detailed and leaves some things out: Spotlights on SSI.

If you are currently on SSI, you can also call the local Social Security office and ask for the name and contact info of the worker assigned to your SSI case. This person will be trained in SSI policy and is more likely to know the correct answer. If you feel a specific rule is not being followed correctly, you can request to speak to a “Technical Expert.” If you call the main number, whatever you do, never ask questions to the person who answers the phone.

Here’s a list of people and places you may be able to contact for help if you are having a problem with Social Security or if you cannot get your questions answered. Contacting your Congressperson’s office can be especially helpful.

Children on SSI

Most of the above links also apply to children. In addition:

38 thoughts on “How to Stay Out of Hot Water with SSI”

  1. Hi! I have a question. I have been receiving SSI for about a year and a half. When I applied, I was very sick due to a cancer diagnosis and did not fully understand the rules. It has come to my attention that cash from friends/family (mostly via Venmo in my case) is counted as “unearned income.” What do I do if I received this help in several (7 or more) previous months? From what I’m seeing, it looks like it would disqualify me from many months that I received SSI, money that I am unable to pay back as I do not have any actual income. I just had my yearly review which is what prompted me to review the SSI rules and my SSI was renewed with no problems. So, my question is- do I wait and see if I was overpaid and wait to see if SSI finds the discrepancies? Do I call SSI and explain everything? I spoke to an attorney that said to “let sleeping dogs lie,” but I am stressed and just want to do the right thing. What is the likelihood of them auditing my bank statements and deeming the Venmo transfers as countable income? I don’t know what to do, and did not mean to break any rules.

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    1. They will probably be able to work out some kind of repayment plan for you. Your SSI check may be lowered a small amount, until funds are recovered. For the future, please see the links above on ways that you can earn or receive money. There are other options that won’t affect your SSI. For example, funds can be put into an able account, a special needs trust, or your friends your family can directly purchase items for you. They can also pay your bills directly, as long as it is not rent, food, or utilities… this will have no impact on SSI.

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      1. Shouldn’t they have looked at my accounts and bank statements when I was up for redetermination? I was under the impression that if I was doing something wrong, they would let me know or take money out of the checks but I haven’t had any issues like that.

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  2. I’m 73 and on social security. I fully retired in August 2019, so since then my income is 1,287.00 increased recently to 1,318.00. In January 2020 I moved to an apartment, rented, and then I was ill and my credit rating plummeted and it was very hard to find a job. Then, during the pandemic it got worse. Due to my ignorance I never applied for unemployment, because I thought people on social security were not entitled. Now that I am more than broke, I finally filed a DEO-Connect form for reemployment, buy they have not made a decision yet and I can only login again December 8. By then I don’t know if I will be able to apply for FPEUC, PEUC, OR PUA. Could you please help me?

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  3. Hello Sleepygirl, thank you so much for sharing such useful info. You deserve a million likes for you page!
    I have been on SSI with disability, I will be receiving a good amount of cash inheritance from overseas. Is there any way I can spend it down and not let it impact my SSI and medicaid? I read somewhere here you mentioned ” buy a house”…since I do not own any home so that might be an option for me, but can I buy a home from my child? I have been living in her place alone and would like to stay at where I am at. She is okay selling me the house too.
    Thank you,
    Lily

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    1. Hi lily,

      There are links above on safe ways to spend money. Yes, buying a house is allowed. As long as you live in the house it will not count as an asset. However, if you stop living there or if you get a roommate and collect rent, etc, that would count. Hope it goes great for you.

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    2. ask a question to ssi lm 61yearss old. im not a student and i live alone i use my disability check for bills should i have gotten a first check because this disqualifies me as anybodys dependent so who’s fault on overlooking this error causing me not to get much needed money. So i shouldn’t have to wait to the end of 2021 to get the first check. somebody tell me something please?

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  4. Thank you for making this blog. Because every time I open the mailbox and there’s a letter from Social Security. I have a panic attack. I just don’t understand what any of it means. So thank you.

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  5. I have a 2003 car ( over 100k) that I’m still paying (12k) for that I financed (high interest) through Carmax (a year ago) because my credit wasn’t that good and I needed a vehicle to get around with my son age of 4 to take him to therapies, school and doctors appointments but it has started giving me issues. Would it affect me, or am I able to use my sons backpay from SSI to trade in this car and make a down payment for a new one?

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    1. If backpay is large they usually make you put it in a “dedicated account.”

      Once in that kind of account, you have to get special permission if you want to spend it for anything except medical care or a few allowed activities.

      Some parents have had success contacting their SSI caseworkers and showing proof of need for special items, like you said above needing to take child to school, medical appointments, etc.

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      1. Thank you so much for your response. What is the difference between a “dedicated account” and an “ABLE” account, or are they the same thing?

        In the event that they don’t ask me to deposit the backpay into a “dedicated account” as you mentioned, and instead to another type of account, what would be the chances that I would be able to use some of the backpay for a down payment on a replacement vehicle?

        We recently were given a fully favorable decision in court and are in the process of determining what the total backpay will be since August 2017. Is this something that I may have to get permission from the case worker? Sorry if my questions are somewhat redundant, I am really new to this whole process. Thanks.

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  6. Ricahard, can you share more about what kind of help you need?

    Hi Sleepy Girl, Any advice on what we need to do if we receive the govt $1000 checks. I have an ABLE account. I haven’t been working. It seem to me this $1000 will either be counted as assets or income. If assets, it would need to be put in an ABLE account or spent prior to months end so not to go over $2000 asset limit? And if it’s income, would it matter if I haven’t been working at all this year?

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  7. The site is great. I had a quick question. I have spent the last three years living in long term care facilities, even though I am only 47. I got approved for SSI while in the facility and of course was given only $30/month. I left three weeks ago, and immediatley landed back in a facility this time simply for a three week rehab. Now that I have to get a ”re-determination”, I want to know how long that will take and what will determine how much I get (they had told me I’d get anywhere from $1.00 to $771.00.
    Thanks in advance
    Joseph

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  8. I was told by a lawyer in New York State that it’s possible to put $100K from the assets of my house and be able to use that money for the purchase of a new house, and not have it affect SSI, Medicaid and Food stamps. She said she didn’t know about other state’s laws.
    Because I am currently looking country-wide for an “quiet zone” because I’m hyper-electric sensitive, it may be that I rent for a year through section 8 and then purchase a house. I’m not sure yet where that will be. Do you know if it’s possible to find out a broad-ranging rule on all states about a trust and putting $100K in there for use at another time for purchase of a house?

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    1. Glad you are moving forward with looking into this sharon.

      Just saw this message. I don’t know the rules in all states, there are trust lawyers listed on this page in case helpful: https://www.specialneedsalliance.org/find-an-attorney/ I believe your age makes a difference, it’s harder for seniors.

      The other thing you might check is the Section 8 rules, I feel like I read somewhere that if you do homeownership program and then sell the house, you have to return some of the money? That might be wrong. Even if it’s right, you might get around it by investing the funds in a new place, but I’m not sure how putting the funds into a trust and waiting a year would play out.

      By the way, if you are not already in the HUD disability facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/220827085367015/?fref=gc&dti=415895081886606&hc_location=ufi

      Like

  9. Wonderful site, and I have also never come across such a comprehensive and easy-to-navigate site
    about applying for disability and about related issues.

    Like

  10. I don’t know if I been approved? I applied for SSI(disability) and adult child benefits on 3/2019. I was denied on July 31 for the adult child benefits. I don’t know the reason until I received the denial letter. However for the SSI, it’s says A medical design have been made and we are working to process your benefit application. I think I might have been denied for the adult child benefits due me being an a home care waiver program, having Medicaid and food stamps.

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  11. Hello,

    Mom is currently receiving SSI benefits, and have no other income. She got a credit card offer from her bank. Question: is it ok for her to apply and use a credit card?

    Thanks.

    Like

  12. Friend of mine on SSI about 7 years ago sold home, 80K in capital gains, did not realize she should have reported it. Now she wants to. Does she need legal counsel?

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Ok, well the first thing would be to confirm if she is on SSI or SSDI. For SSDI there would be no problem.

          For SSI, if the money is gone, she would be eligible for SSI right now.

          However, during any months she still had the money, she might owe money back for those months. Sorry I know this is not great news.

          There is some info on how to deal with overpayment issues here:
          https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/how-to-respond-when-social-security-tells-you-that-you-owe-money-back/

          Like

  13. This is very informative and I really appreciate the info. I’m hoping to see the inheritance info soon as I am expecting very shortly. I am greatful!

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    1. Hi Kaia,

      The most important thing to know about an inheritance is to ask your family to set up a Special Needs Trust. This can be done through a lawyer that specializes in Medicaid estate planning. If you are to receive any money, it can go directly into the trust and will not affect your SSI.

      For a house, you are allowed to inherit it if you live in it, and you only own one house.

      Hope this helps.

      Like

    2. You also may want to check into the ABLE Act which is new legislation started in 2015 that if u were diabled at a certain age you can put money aside for disability related expenses and still keep SSI Medicaid food stamps. There is a lifetime cap of. $300,000 but only can put in$14000per year. Check out everything by googling Able resource center which is the main page for info from govt program.
      There’s lots of videos to understand it.
      It may or may not sute your needs

      Like

  14. The new federal ABLE ACT allows savings of around $300,000 with yearly caps of $14,000 in state ABLE accounts for those disabled prior to age 26 and the age has just gone up, so check in on that. Also you don’t have to be determined disabled by federal govt social security disability, you just need a doctors note
    I know this doesn’t seem possible given that the cap has been at $2000 but new program now to help people save when on SSI.
    THe only state that so far as of July 2017 doesn’t have high rates for joining and bank fees is Tennessee. You don’t have to be from Tennesse to join. Those on federal means based programs, like ssi, section 8, food stamps etc, can choose whichever state they’d like to join.
    See this website for the federal program
    http://www.ablenrc.org
    Why is there a 14,000 savings allowance per year and so many bank fees when those on ssi, food stamps, etc that the program is meant for only get $753 per month.
    This program I think was the initiative of parents of children with autism who wanted to get help with these means based programs and still allow their child their money.
    The ABLE Act was passed in a bi-partisan effort (both dems and republicans)

    Liked by 1 person

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