Will it be a problem that my spouse has an income when I apply for Social Security Disability benefits?

Your spouse’s income can affect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits but will have no impact on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSI is based on income or financial need, and because it’s a need-based program, benefit amounts are calculated taking your current finances into account, causing your spouse's income to impact your financial need.

SSDI on the other hand is based on medical status and work credits. The difference in how the programs are structured and the manner in which eligibility is determined are what makes a spouse’s income matter for one and not for the other.

SSDI Eligibility

SSDI eligibility requires you have a medically substantiated disability that significantly limits your ability to maintain gainful employment. Gainful employment is considered $1,260 per month (or $2,110 per month if you’re blind). Additionally, you must have built up enough work credits over the course of your employment history prior to becoming disabled and applying for benefits.

Work credits are essentially an accounting of the payroll tax contributions you made to the SSD fund from your paychecks in the decade before your disability application.

If you’re approved for SSDI benefits, it will be because you have a medically provable disability that prevents you from maintaining gainful employment. It will also be because you have enough work credits with the SSDI fund to meet the contribution requirements for receiving benefits.

In other words, you are approved for SSD based on your own work history and current medical condition; therefore, your spouse’s income or current employment status has absolutely nothing to do with your SSDI benefits. On the other hand, a spouse’s income can have a significant impact on your eligibility for SSI benefits.

When looking at how your disability application will be reviewed, including your spouse’s income, you will need to take a few things into consideration. First, you need to understand how the Social Security SSA views spousal relationships. Second, you must look at the amount of your spouse’s income, and lastly, you must consider how the SSA views a spouse’s income based on family structure or size.

SSA’s Definition of a Spouse

If you are in a valid marriage under applicable law (the law of the state in which the worker lives) the SSA considers this person to be your spouse and that at least a portion of his or her income should be available to you based on the spousal relationship. It is possible that you entered a ceremonial marriage where the applicable law wouldn't consider the marriage valid. This is the case when there is any impediments from a prior marriage or procedurally there was an error in the marriage. It is still possible that the SSA would treat this as a marriage if the marriage was done in good faith.

There are also instances in which even the income of non-married couples and ex-spouses can affect your SSI eligibility. If for instance, you live with a significant other and represent yourself in the public arena as married, the SSA can consider your significant other’s income when looking at your SSI eligibility.The same is true if you currently receive alimony or child support from an ex-spouse. Those monies are factored into the SSA evaluation of your financial need and will therefore affect your SSI eligibility.

Your spouse's income may impact your SSI but not your SSDI.

“Deeming” of Spouse’s Income by the SSA

The SSA considers the relationship you have with your spouse and the amount of his or her income when reviewing eligibility for SSI benefits. “Deeming” is the term used for when the SSA believes a certain amount of your spouse’s income would be available to you to pay for everyday living expenses.

The amount of income the SSA “deems” to you when looking at your application depends on your family structure and size and the amount of income your spouse earns.

If you have no children, but your spouse earns more than $349 per month, some amount of his or her income will be deemed to you. If you have children, then the amount of your spouse’s income is multiplied by the number of kids you have, plus your spouse, to determine the “deeming” threshold.

In other words, one child means your spouse must make $698 per month ($349 X 2 – 1 for spouse and 1 for child) before his or her income will be subject to deeming.

How Much of Your Spouse’s Income the SSA will Deem to You

The SSA’s formula for deeming a spouse’s income is quite complicated, but suffice to say it takes into account all of the financial factors of your everyday life and living expenses.

While you may not be able to estimate the amount of your benefits, you will at least know whether your spouse’s income will be a factor in your eligibility based on the basic income guidelines listed above.