How to Apply for SSI Benefits (2020 Guide)

Applying for SSI benefits can feel daunting, but we can help. In this post, we will provide you tips to ease the application process, including SSI income limit, eligibility for adults and children, and how much you will receive in benefits if you are approved.

In addition, we will explain how the application process works, including how you can apply online.

Furthermore, we will detail what happens after you submit your application.

Learn how Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can help your child or family pay for personal and medical needs because of a disability or limited resources (if you are 65 or older).

"Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits"

  • What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
  • Difference Between SSI and SSDI
  • How Much Will I Receive in SSI Benefits?
  • Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits?
  • SSI Eligibility Criteria for Children
  • Eligibility Criteria for Adults (ages 18-65)
  • How to Apply for SSI Benefits
  • SSI Application Approval Rate
  • What happens if my SSI application is rejected?

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income or SSI, is a federal benefit program administered by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly payments to people who have limited income and few resources, and who are:

  • Disabled (at any age), or
  • Age 65 or older

SSI is a needs-based program, which means the amount you receive in benefits depends on the income that is available to you.

However, unlike Social Security retirement benefits, SSI benefits are paid out of general U.S. Treasury funds, not from Social Security taxes.

As a result, you need not have worked a certain amount, or paid FICA taxes, to be eligible.

SSI benefits are not the same as Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI).

Nevertheless, the two programs often overlap. Many SSI recipients have worked long enough to collect Social Security but their Social Security benefit is low enough that they also qualify for SSI.

Nearly one-third of adult SSI recipients under age 65, and almost three-fifths of recipients over 65, also get Social Security.

The video below from the Idaho Department of Labor does an excellent job of explaining what you need to know about SSI benefits.

Difference Between SSI and SSDI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) differs from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in that SSI payments are made from the general funds of the United States Treasury whereas SSDI benefits are paid from the Social Security Trust Fund.

Accordingly, to qualify for SSI benefits, you must have little or no income and meet any of the following two criteria:

  • Disabled (at any age), or
  • Age 65 or older

To qualify for SSDI, you must have paid enough in Social Security taxes and earned enough credits to be covered by the program.

In general, that usually means having worked 5 years full-time out of the last 10 years.

However, SSI does not depend on your work history and is needs-based, so you must have limited income and financial resources, including assets.

You will need to produce pay stubs, bank statements, deeds, and other proof of property ownership as part of your application.

In addition, both SSI and SSDI have the same strict medical criteria for qualification.

For a detailed review of differences between SSI and SSDI, see our SSI vs. SSDI Differences post.

How Much Will I Recieve in SSI Benefits?

The basic monthly SSI payment for 2020 is the same nationwide. It is:
—$783 for one person.
—$1,175 for a couple.

However, not everyone gets the same amount. You may get more if you live in a state that adds money to the federal SSI payment.

Average SSI Benefit Amount

In fact, the average SSI payment received in 2019 (by adults) was $551 per month, while children on SSI received an average of $655 per month.

Also, you may receive less if you or your family has other income.

In addition, where and with whom you live also makes a difference in the amount of your
SSI payment.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia offer supplemental SSI payments.

States that provide additional payments may have their own rules regarding income and eligibility.

Who is Eligible for SSI Benefits?

What you need to qualify for SSI benefits depends on your age. For a detailed review of the SSI eligibility criteria, see our post on What is SSI benefits and who is Eligible?

We have provided a summary of the eligibility criteria below.

Who is considered a “Child” for SSI benefit purposes?

A person who is neither married (as determined by Social Security) nor head of a household and:

  • is under age 18; or
  • is under age 22 and is a student regularly attending school (as determined by Social Security).

SSI Eligibility Criteria for Children

To be eligible for SSI benefits, a child must be either blind or disabled.

A child may be eligible for SSI disability benefits beginning as early as the date of birth; there is no minimum age requirement.

In addition, a child may be eligible for SSI disability benefits until attainment of age 18.

However, when a child attains age 18, benefits do not automatically continue.

At age 18, the Social Security Administration will evaluate impairments based on the definition of disability for adults and determine if benefits should continue.

Nevertheless, a child with a visual impairment may be eligible for SSI benefits based on blindness if the impairment meets the Social Security definition of blindness.

SSI Eligibility Criteria for Adults (ages 18-65)

If you’re between ages 18 – 65, to qualify for SSI benefits, you need to:

    • Have a disability that prevents you from working
    • Meet income and resource limits; and
    • Meet certain citizenship and residency requirements

Medical Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for SSI benefits, you must show that:

  1. You have a disability
  2. Your disability prevents you from working.

The Social Security Administration has very specific rules about what is and is not a disability.

Income Eligibility

In 2020, if you are earning more than $1,260 per month (or $2,110 if you’re blind), Social Security says your earnings are Substantial Gainful Activity.

Nonetheless, if you are working above the SGA level, you are considered able to work, and therefore not disabled and not eligible for SSI benefits.

Resources Eligibility

To be approved for SSI benefits, you must also meet the resources requirement. Resources are cash and other property that you own and could convert to cash.

You must have less than $2,000 in countable resources ($3,000 for a couple) to qualify for SSI benefits. This is the SSI resources limit.

Citizenship Requirements

To qualify for SSI benefits, you must be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien.

Qualified aliens include people who are:

  • Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the U.S.
  • Refugees admitted to the U.S. under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • People granted asylum under section 208 of the INA

For a more detailed review of the SSI eligibility criteria, see our Supplemental Security Income eligibility criteria post.

How to Apply for SSI Benefits

"How much does SSI pay per month"

There are two ways to apply for SSI Benefits:

Option 1 – Apply Online

To apply for SSI, you can begin the process and complete a large part of your application by visiting our website at www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/.

You may be eligible to complete your SSI application online if you:

  • Are between the ages of 18 and 65.
  • Have never been married.
  • Aren’t blind.
  • Are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the 50 states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past.
  • Are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as your SSI claim

Otherwise, you can use option 2 below to apply with your local Social Security office.

Option 2 – Apply at your Local SSA Office

You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 to set up an
in-person or telephone appointment with a representative from your local Social
Security office.

When to Apply for SSI Benefits

You should apply for SSI benefits as soon as possible so that you do not lose benefits.

Remember, if approved, you will only receive benefits effective from the date of your application.

You will not receive benefits for time periods earlier than the effective date of your application.

Also, if you call the Social Security Administration to make an appointment to apply for SSI benefits and you file an application within 60 days of the call, the SSA may use the date of your call as your application filing date.

How long does it take for SSI application to be processed?

The processing time for SSI applications varies widely, but the average is 3-5 months from the date of application.

However, people who have severe disabilities that fall under Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) classification will receive expedited review of their SSI/SSDI applications.

SSI Application Approval Rate

About 70% of all initial applications for disability benefits are rejected by the SSA. If your initial application is denied by the SSA, it is not the end of the road.

You can file an appeal, beginning with a Request for Reconsideration.

You may also consider hiring an experienced Disability Attorney to take you through the appeal process.

What happens if my SSI application is rejected?

Many SSI applications are denied. As mentioned above, about 70% of all initial applications are rejected.

However, if you believe you qualify for these benefits and have been wrongly denied, find an advocate familiar with Social Security disability policy to represent you.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives can help. Call for a referral at 1-800-431-2804 or visit their website here.

Also, You can also find an experienced Social Security Disability attorney in your area to help you appeal your decision.

Apply for SSI Benefits Summary

We hope this post on how to Apply for SSI Benefits was helpful.

If you have further questions about Social Security, SSI, or SSDI, please let us know in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out our other articles on Social Security including What is SSI Eligibility Criteria?, SSI vs. SSDI, SSI Benefits Calculator, SSI payments ScheduleSocial Security Questions and Answers, and SSI Wage reporting instructions