Social Security attributes some of parents’ income to children for the purpose of deciding SSI eligibility, in a process called “deeming.”
Social Security will deem (attribute) parental income to the child if the child is under age 18 and either lives in the home with a natural or adoptive parent or is in the parent’s control, even though the child may be away at school. Social Security will also count stepparent’s income if the stepparent lives in the same home with the child and a natural or adoptive parent.
Social Security has a complicated formula for deeming parental income to children, and the agency will re-calculate the amount to be deemed from the parent(s) to the children each month (Social Security reassesses whether a child is financially eligible for SSI on a monthly basis).
First, Social Security totals up all of both parents’ gross earned and unearned income. Social Security will not count certain kinds of income; examples of non-countable income are food stamps, welfare payments, and income tax refunds. Then, Social Security will subtract certain amounts to come up with the amount of income to be deemed from the parent(s) to the child.
Social Security deducts $397 per month for each nondisabled child in the family, first from unearned income (such as alimony), until none remains, and then from earned income (wages). (This $397 deduction amount is the difference between the federal SSI amount for individuals and the federal SSI amount for couples. For 2021, the couples' benefit rate is $1,191, minus the individual benefit rate of $794, for a deduction amount of $397 per non-disabled child.)
Next, Social Security takes a $20 deduction from the parents' unearned income, or, if there is no more unearned income, from their earned income. Then, Social Security deducts $65 from the parent's earned income and reduces the remaining total of earned income by half. Social Security then reduces the resulting combined total of earned and unearned parental income by the federal SSI benefit rate ($794) for an individual if the child lives with only one parent, or the rate for a couple ($1,191) if the child lives with both parents or one parent and a stepparent.
If there is only one disabled child in the household, Social Security deems the remaining total countable income to the one child. If there is more than one disabled child receiving SSI, Social Security divides the total countable income and deems it equally among the children.
Next Social Security turns to the child's income. To figure out how much SSI is due to a child with deemed income, Social Security performs a separate income calculation for the child. Social Security treats the parent's deemed income as unearned income to the child during its calculations.
If the child has no earned income of his/her own, Social Security simply calculates the amount of the child’s SSI benefit by taking the parent's deemed income, subtracting the $20 deduction, and then subtracting this amount from the current maximum monthly SSI amount ($794 in a state that doesn't supplement SSI). The balance is the amount of SSI the child will receive each month.
If the household receives child support on behalf of the disabled child, Social Security treats it as unearned income received by the child, but only counts two-thirds of the total monthly support as countable income. Also, Social Security only looks at child support that is actually received, so if the non-custodial parent fails to pay support, it will not have any effect on the child’s SSI benefit.
For more information, see our overview of how Social Security calculates SSI payments.
For children who are over 18, no income deeming occurs, but if the child lives with his or her parents rent-free, Social Security will assume that the child is getting free rent and board and can decrease the child's SSI benefit by one-third. For this reason, some parents charge their children rent and/or board. For more information, see our article on "in-kind income."
Updated February 8, 2021