Social Security Disability and Marriage Penalty

Are you considering applying for disability benefits while married? Or are you already receiving disability benefits and are planning to marry? You may be concerned about what is called the “marriage penalty” in Social Security disability.

Is There A ‘Marriage Penalty’ For SSDI Or SSI?

If you are covered under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, you do not need to worry about this so-called penalty, as it generally does not affect SSDI recipients. There are two small exceptions to this. One, if your SSDI benefits are not based on your own earnings record but on your parent’s, those benefits will be terminated if you get married. Two, if your SSDI benefits are based on your ex-spouse’s record, those benefits will be terminated if you remarry.

On the other hand, if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), your spouse’s income can affect the amount you may receive, or even your eligibility for benefits. The SSI program is needs-based and intended for those who have extremely low income. If you are married, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will “deem” or consider part of your spouse’s income as yours, too – and this means that your “countable income” will increase.

Income Limit On SSI Eligibility

If you are applying for SSI, you can only be eligible if your countable income does not exceed the income limit, also known as the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR). In 2018, the FBR is $750 per month for an individual and $1,125 for married couple recipients.

So if you are applying as an unmarried person, your income limit is $750. The same limit is true if you are applying as someone who is married to a non-recipient (meaning you alone are applying). You may be earning less than $750, but if the SSA ‘deems’ some of your spouse’s income as yours, your countable income could exceed the limit and make you ineligible for benefits.

Another scenario is if you and your spouse both qualify for SSI benefits and are both applying. Your income limit is $1,125 together, instead of the sum of your individual limits ($750 x 2, or $1,500).

However, note that any income limit applies only to “countable income.” Not everything you earn may be considered countable by the SSA. For instance, the SSA does not consider food stamps and income tax refunds as countable income. To learn more about these exclusions, see the SSA’s list here.

‘Marriage Penalty’ For SSI Recipients

If you are already receiving SSI benefits and then decide to marry, your benefits may be reduced according to the marital income that the SSA deems as yours. In 2018, the SSA subjects your spouse’s income to deeming if he or she earns more than $375 a month for the two of you, plus $375 for every child you have. In other words, deeming occurs if:

  • Your spouse earns more than $375 a month, and you and your spouse have no child, or
  • Your spouse earns more than $750 a month, and you have one child, or
  • Your spouse earns more than $1,125 a month, and you have two children, and so on.

How much of your spouse’s income will be deemed to you? The SSA determines this using a complex formula, but here’s a simpler version to get an estimate:

  1. For each child you have, subtract $375 from your spouse’s income ($375 for one child, $750 for two children, and so on).
  2. Add the remaining of your spouse’s income to your own. Company pension or income from IRA isn’t included here.
  3. Deduct anything that the SSA does not consider as countable income. (See a list of these exclusions here.)
  4. The remaining amount is an estimate of the spousal income that the SSA will deem to you.

You can then subtract this deemed amount from the SSI couples limit, which is $1,125 in 2018. The remainder is an estimate of your monthly SSI benefits. If this estimate exceeds $750, your actual monthly benefits would only be $750, as this is the income limit for individuals.

The computation is different if both you and your spouse have successfully qualified for SSI. As mentioned above, the SSA applies an income limit of $1,125 for each married couple together, instead of summing up two individual income limits.

Important Note On Marital Status

For the SSA, it’s not only those who are legally married who are considered ‘spouses.’ The agency may also consider your boyfriend or girlfriend a ‘spouse’ if you live together and treat each other as husband and wife. Deeming of income may also apply in this situation.

When marriage is involved, it’s clearly challenging to determine exactly how much you should receive as Social Security disability benefits. Not only is it a complicated calculation, there are also numerous factors to learn about. The best way to know and claim what you deserve is to get the assistance of a Social Security attorney – someone who is knowledgeable in this area of law and experienced in effectively navigating it.

In Virginia, we at the Gillette Law Group have years of experience in helping claimants succeed in applications, appeals, and other concerns with the SSA. Whether you are applying for disability benefits, seeking supplemental income, or aiming to adjust your benefits with your marital status, we can help you. Call us at (855) 806-4269 today.