Many years ago, I had a client who finally got approved for disability. She and I fought together for years to get her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. With this good news in hand, she rushed off to do the other thing she had been waiting to to: she got married. What a lovely, happy ending to that story, eh? Nope. By getting married, she lost her eligibility for any benefits. Social Security still considered her disabled. But, she was no longer financially eligible to receive even a dime each month.
What went wrong?
Remember: Any Income Can Reduce Your SSI Benefits
It is important to remember that for those persons who have not worked long enough (or recently enough) to be eligible for disability, their only option is SSI. When a person collects SSI, Social Security is going to reduce the monthly benefit (currently $733.00 a month) by any other income or assets the beneficiary has. This does not need to be in the form of money, either. If you are living rent free with a friend or relative, for example, Social Security will assign a value to the rent you would otherwise be paying. That amount, usually no more than $250, comes straight off your monthly SSI check.
The Math Involved Is Very Complicated
If you are married (to someone with income who is not getting disability benefits) and eligible for SSI, Social Security has some very complicated rules about how your spouse's income affects your benefits. Suffice it to say, the net result is not positive. The math involved is messy, but the take away is simple: Social Security is going to count your spouse's income as your income. Given that any income reduces SSI benefits, you can see where this is heading. It does not take a lot of income before Social Security applies these rules. For 2016, your spouse need only make more than $367.00 a month before the process of reducing your SSI benefits takes hold. Once the amount of your spouse's income is more than about $2,400 a month, your SSI check is going to be zero. Keep in mind, however, that there are all manner of variables at play here, including having dependent children.
Does Getting Married Make Financial Sense For The Disabled?
With this in mind, the decision to get married gets very complicated for those persons receiving SSI (and their potential spouse is not.) If you are in this
situation, you need to think carefully before walking down the aisle. There are substantial economic reasons for being married, such as better income tax rates. Keep in mind, too, that if you are married to a high-earner for at least 10 years, you could collect off of that person's earnings record in retirement. But the question of whether it makes financial sense for SSI beneficiaries to get married is one to research carefully before sending out the invitations.