Why would marriage affect SSDI benefits?
Before discussing the impact of marriage on a disability benefit, it’s important to understand the difference between SSDI, SSI, and disabled adult child (DAC) benefits. The Social Security system treats marriage differently depending on which benefit is involved and takes income-related and asset-related factors into account.
SSDI – Social Security Disability Insurance is a type of benefit funded through a worker’s taxes paid to the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for disability benefits, a person must have worked and paid taxes for enough years to be insured for the SSDI benefit, and they must also meet the disability rules of the program.
SSI –This is a low-income benefit. An SSI (Social Security Insurance) beneficiary does not need to have worked or paid taxes to be eligible for this program. The asset limit for SSI for an individual is $2,000 in total, while for a married couple, the asset limit is $3,000. These limits are means-tested on a month-by-month basis. It is critical to understand these asset limits, as they play a major role in determining whether a marriage will impact the SSI beneficiary.
DAC –This benefit is for adults who became disabled prior to age 22, and who have a parent who is also disabled, retired, or diseased. A DAC (disabled adult child) beneficiary receives benefits on the Social Security work record of the parent, and in this way, is similar to SSDI in that the monthly amount received is based on a worker’s earning record. There are about 1.1 million DAC beneficiaries in the United States.
What is the impact of marriage on SSDI benefits?
The impact of marriage on SSDI benefits will depend on the way you collect these benefits. You can either collect SSDI on your own record or on someone else’s records.
When collecting SSDI benefits on one's own work records
A common question for SSDI beneficiaries is whether getting married will have an impact on their benefit. The short answer is no, an SSDI beneficiary can get married without concern for their disability benefit. As discussed above, SSDI is based on the beneficiary’s own work record, so it is not means-tested and there are no asset limits for the beneficiary or the spouse of the beneficiary.
Similarly, Social Security does not count the spousal income of an SSDI beneficiary, nor does it consider the assets of an SSDI beneficiary’s spouse. SSDI is viewed as a type of insurance that’s funded by the disabled worker’s income taxes, so the government does not conduct means tests after the award of benefits. Since the SSDI benefit was “funded” through the beneficiary’s past employment, the act of marriage has no impact, regardless of the financial situation of the non-disabled spouse.
When collecting SSDI benefits on someone else's records
Widowers can collect SSA benefits as early as age 60, or beginning at age 50 if disabled within seven years of a spouse’s death. A widower can also receive survivors benefits at any age if they are not remarried, taking care of the deceased worker’s child, and the child is under age 16 and receiving disability benefits.
A surviving spouse loses the benefit when they remarry before age 50. If you remarry after age 60, or after age 50 if you are disabled under Social Security rules, you can continue to receive benefits on your deceased spouse’s earnings record. [Note: If the current spouse of a widower or surviving divorced spouse receives a greater amount in Social Security benefits, the surviving divorced spouse or widower can apply for benefits under the current spouse’s benefit. SSA will always pay whichever benefit is greater, but SSA cannot pay both benefits simultaneously].
You should contact Social Security when a family member dies. SSA pays a one time lump sum payment to certain eligible survivors. If the deceased was receiving benefits, SSA requires that you return the benefit paid in the month in which the family member passed away. Any payments paid in the months after death must be paid back to Social Security.
A surviving spouse or widower can switch to their own retirement benefits at age 62, assuming the retirement benefit is greater than the survivors benefit. SSA will pay a combination of benefits (from the survivor benefit and the retirement benefit) that is equal to the higher benefit.
If you are receiving any type of Social Security benefit, your earned income can impact the monthly payment. For the year 2022, the income limit for a SSA retirement beneficiary is $19,560. SSA will reduce the benefit by $1 for every $2 above the limit. The year you reach full retirement age, SSA reduces the benefit by $1 for every $3 above the limit. Starting the month of full retirement, there are no limits to how much you can earn.
For disabled adult children, or DAC, the benefit is based on the parent’s work record, not the adult child’s work record. The DAC benefit was created to help provide and care for individuals who are unable to work due to a disability, and whose disability began prior to their 22nd birthday. Because the parent of a DAC beneficiary is either disabled, retired, or deceased, this program helps provide for their children when they are no longer able to provide for their children. When the parent of a DAC becomes disabled, retires, or dies, the benefit is intended to provide for their adult child who is unable to earn income to support themselves. Because the disability began prior to customary working years, the Social Security Administration deems DAC beneficiaries as unlikely to earn tax credits under their own work record.
A DAC who marries will likely lose their benefit and Medicare coverage. Even if the marriage ends in divorce or widowhood, the DAC benefit is permanently terminated unless limited exceptions apply. One exception is when a DAC beneficiary marries another Social Security beneficiary. Another exception occurs when a DAC marriage ends due to divorce or widowhood, in which case the beneficiary can become re-entitled to DAC benefits if the other parent retires, dies, or becomes disabled. Therefore, a DAC recipient cannot marry a working spouse without losing federal benefits.
Because the program was created to help take care of disabled adult children when the parents are no longer able to due to a disability, retirement, or death, the benefit ends if another worker (the spouse) is able to provide for the DAC beneficiary. A DAC also cannot earn a substantial gainful income due to work activity, or they will lose their benefit. See our article “Working While Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits” to read more on this topic.
- Divorced spouse’s benefit
A surviving spouse is a person who is over the age of 60 or becomes disabled between the ages of 50 and 60. Similarly, an ex-spouse receiving Social Security on an ex-spouse’s work record will lose benefits upon remarriage. However, if the recipient is over age 60, or between ages 50 and 60, SSA will not terminate the divorced spousal benefit.
What is the impact of marriage on SSI benefits?
Unlike a DAC or surviving spouse, an SSI recipient can get married without automatic termination of benefits. However, it is important to understand how marriage impacts the SSI asset test. Remember, the resource limit for a single SSI recipient is $2,000 in total. For a married couple, the asset limit is $3,000. Therefore, the income and assets of a spouse can reduce or eliminate the SSI benefit. For example, if an SSI beneficiary marries someone who has a savings account with $3,500 dollars, they are no longer eligible for SSI due to excess resources.
Even if a couple meets the SSI resource test, the income from a working spouse can still impact the SSI benefit. This is called spousal “deeming” under federal law. It’s important to note that, even if a couple is not legally married, Social Security will still deem spousal income if the couple lives together and holds themselves out as married in the community.
How is spousal income deemed?
In 2022, the maximum federal SSI payment is $841 for an individual and $1,261 for an eligible couple. SSA uses a complex formula to calculate spousal income. First, Social Security deducts living expenses in the amount of $420 for each ineligible child from the ineligible spouse’s income. For a couple with no children in 2022, if a spouse earns over $420 per month, the spouse’s income is “deemed” to the SSI-eligible spouse. If the SSI beneficiary has one child, the spouse’s income is subject to deeming if it is more than $840 per month. For each additional child, $420 is added to the limit. In addition to the living expenses, SSA will not count $85 dollars of spousal income.
How would this impact come into effect?
Hypothetical couple: Ineligible spouse earns $2,000 per month
- No children: To perform the deeming calculation, subtract $85 dollars from the ineligible spouse’s salary. Then deduct $1 for every $2 in income, or divide the difference by two, as shown in the formula below:
For this couple, the SSI beneficiary is no longer eligible for a benefit because the deemed income amount of $957.50 is greater than the maximum federal benefit amount of $841.
- One child: To perform this calculation for a couple with one child, SSA reduces the SSI benefit by $1 for every $2 of income above $505 ($420 living expenses allocation for one child + $85 additional deduction). So if an ineligible spouse earns $507 per month from working, $1 dollar is deducted from the eligible spouse’s SSI. If an ineligible spouse earns $2,000, SSA will deduct $747.50, or:
- Two children: Assume the same $2,000 monthly income for the ineligible spouse as above. SSA deduces living expense allocations in the amount of $840, or two times $420 allocations, one for each child. In this scenario, the SSI benefit is reduced by $537.50, as shown in the computation below:
As you can see, an ineligible spouse’s income can quickly reduce or even eliminate the SSI payment. Assume an income of $3,500 per month, for example. Based on the calculations described above, even for a couple with two children, the SSI payment is completely offset by the monthly income.
It is important to update Social Security when your marital status changes or if your spouse starts earning income. Timely updates to Social Security can prevent future overpayment notices.
What Should You Keep in Mind Before Applying for SSDI Benefits?
Even if their spouse is working, a person can apply for SSDI benefits. The outcome of the application will depend on factors such as the number of years worked or the payment of Social Security taxes.
The income from a spouse of an SSDI beneficiary does not impact the SSDI benefit. An SSDI beneficiary’s monthly benefit is based on their own work record and is not affected by spousal assets or income.
Connect with a Social Security Disability attorney for guidance
Are you considering an application or appeal for Social Security disability and unsure of which benefits you might qualify for? Are you unclear on whether your marital status or the income of your spouse will impact your benefit? Call LaPorte Law Firm today to set up a free consultation or just ask us a question. We have more than 40 years of experience getting our clients in the Bay Area the benefits they deserve and have the testimonials to prove it.
No, Social Security does not consider the income or assets of the spouse in a claim for SSDI.
You should always report changes in marital status as soon as possible. If you do not report changes in income or marital status, SSA will send a notice of overpayment for every month in which the SSI benefit was paid since the month of the marriage. You will then be held accountable for refunding to SSA the extra amounts received that can sometimes amount to several thousands of dollars.