How Will Getting Married Affect My SSI Payments?

Question:

I'm getting married and am over 60 years old. How will this affect my SSI payments? My husband-to-be is 66 years old and is on Social Security disability and has retirement benefits of less than $500 a month.

Answer:

If you get married while receiving SSI, your payment is likely to be reduced because of your husband's income. Why? Because most of your husband's Social Security income will be "deemed" to belong to you. Social Security uses a complex formula to come up with what your new SSI payment would be – I'll show you how it works.

When Is Income Subject to Deeming?

Anytime a spouse's income is more than $385.50 per month, that income is subject to deeming. (This is the amount that Social Security presumes is necessary for your spouse's own food and shelter needs, believe it or not.) If you have a minor child who is not receiving public benefits, another $385.50 will be "saved" for that child, meaning your spouse's income could be as much as $771 per month without any income being deemed to you. But you didn't mention having a child at home, so I assume it would just be you and your husband living together after you're married, making your husband-to-be's income subject to deeming.

How Is an SSI Payment Reduced by Deemed Income?

To figure out what your new SSI payment would be, you would take your husband-to-be's income and add it to any income you get each month (you didn't mention whether you have any income beyond SSI, so I'll assume not). Let's say your joint income is $500, since you mentioned your husband-to-be's Social Security check is around $500 (I assume your husband's disability payments have recently converted to retirement payments, since you can't receive Social Security disability payments after full retirement age). You then subtract $20 from that amount, and what’s left is the spousal income that is deemed to you ($480).

You then subtract $480 from the SSI income limit for a couple (not for an individual) to come up with your monthly benefit. The SSI income limit (and monthly benefit rate) for a couple is $1,157 in 2019. So after subtracting $480, the $677 remainder is what your new monthly benefit would be. This is less than the $771 SSI benefit that you may have been receiving ($771 is the standard federal benefit amount for an individual in 2019). Note that these calculations would change if you were receiving more money because your state adds a state supplement to the SSI payment.

Or, in case your husband-to-be has income besides Social Security (you didn't say), your SSI payment would be reduced even more. For instance, if your husband-to-be also was receiving $300 from another source (not counting any money from an IRA or company pension), you would have to subtract that from the couple's income limit as well, leaving you with an SSI payment of only $377. If your husband-to-be has other unearned income of more than about $700, your SSI payment would probably be eliminated altogether.

For more information, see our article on how marriage affects SSDI and SSI disability benefits.

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