Your spouse’s income may impact your Social Security Disability benefits under certain disability programs. Claimants receiving benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) will see minor, if any, effect from their spouse’s income. In contrast, claimants receiving children’s benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) need to take a spouse’s income into account to qualify for benefits.
Spousal Income and SSDI
SSDI is a program for disabled workers. These workers have paid into the Social Security system for years. The amount of the benefit is based on their prior earnings and work history. To receive SSDI, you must meet the SSA’s definition of disability. According to the SSA,
(a) The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
If you meet the definition, your marital status will not affect your disability benefits. This is because your disability benefits are based on your own individual earnings and disability, not your spouse’s.
However, certain dependents of a disabled worker can receive SSDI auxiliary, or survivor benefits based on the disabled worker’s earning record. Some of these dependents’ benefits are given only to family members who are unmarried. We cover some of the rules around this below.
SSDI and Dependent’s Benefits
Unmarried children or stepchildren receiving survivor benefits can receive benefits until age 18, or until age 19 if they are a full-time high-school student. They no longer qualify for these benefits if they marry before this age.
The unmarried disabled adult child of a disabled worker can also receive benefits (assuming his or her disability occurred before age 22) until he or she recovers from the disability or gets married.
In addition, divorced spouse’s receiving benefits on an ex-spouse’s record may receive benefits until they re-marry. Ex-spouses may receive benefits even if they re-marry so long as they re-marry after age 60.
In summary, spousal income does not impact SSDI benefits, but marital status may impact some dependent benefits. Next, we’ll review how spousal income impacts SSI payments.
SSI and Spousal Income
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based disability program that provides financial assistance to low-income disabled people. These individuals did not pay into the Social Security program, so their disability benefits aren’t based on their individual work history.
Instead, SSI recipients must meet the financial and resource limits to qualify for benefits. One aspect of the financial and resource limits is what the SSA calls “deemed income.” If a disabled person is married and living with their spouse, the SSA assumes a portion of their spouse’s income is deemed income. If the nondisabled spouse makes a good or even fair income, the disabled spouse will likely lose his or her SSI benefits.
We recommend claimants consult a professional disability lawyer if they have questions about deemed income since the laws are complex. But in general, the spouses’ combined countable income cannot exceed $2,467 or $1,211 depending on whether than income is classified as earned or unearned.
If both spouses are disabled, they must both meet the financial eligibility requirements for a couple. Their income is counted together, without using the deeming formula.
In closing, spousal income is not a significant factor for SSDI claimants but may pose a problem for SSI claimants. If you have questions about either program and whether your spouse’s income will disqualify you, we’d be happy to offer you a free consultation on your claim.