You can own a home if you are claiming for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). In fact, you could own a $10 million home in Palm Beach, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) would not hold it against you at all for SSDI purposes. For that matter, you could own multiple vacation homes in the mountains, plus private jets and luxury cars. That is because the basis of SSDI eligibility is your work history and payroll tax contributions. It is not a need-based program and therefore is not at all concerned with your income or total assets.
If you are applying not for SSDI but the other disability program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the homeownership rules get a little murkier. You can own a home and qualify for SSI, but there are rules and restrictions on what you can do with that home and how you can hold the title to it.
SSI and SSDI for Rules for Homeownership
SSDI and SSI have the same medical qualifying criteria, but their eligibility requirements on the financial side differ significantly. That is because the programs serve vastly different purposes and cater to different needs. Both programs require individuals to apply for the benefits.
Social Security Disability Insurance Basics
SSDI provides benefits to people who have worked consistently and who have paid into Social Security via their payroll taxes. The more you have paid in, up to a certain limit, the more you receive in benefits if you become disabled (or when you start collecting regular Social Security in your 60s). Since SSDI is not welfare for the poor, it does not exclude people for circumstances like making too much money or for having too high of net worth.
Supplemental Security Income Basics
SSI, on the other hand, is welfare for the poor. Distribution is based not on how much a person has contributed to the system but on how much of a need the person has. The program thus has strict income and asset limits, and if you find yourself above either of those limits, you will probably get denied. SSI does, however, let you exclude certain assets from being counted toward the limit. Your home is often one of those assets.
Homeownership Rules for SSI
SSI restricts your total assets to $2,000 if you apply as a single person and $3,000 if you apply as a couple. Since even the most modest home in the cheapest area is worth substantially more than these sums, you might worry that being a homeowner will prevent you from collecting SSI. But that usually is not the case. SSI permits you to exempt many items from counting toward your total assets. Your home is one of these items, as long as you meet specific requirements, as detailed below.
Your Home Must be Your Primary Residence
To exclude your home from counting toward your SSI assets, you must live in the house and claim it as your primary residence. If you own a second home, vacation home, investment property, or any other type of real estate that you do not live in full-time, it will be counted toward your assets, even if it is the only home you own. In other words, if you rent an apartment or live with relatives in New York, but own a home in Florida, your Florida home will count against you. But if you live in the Florida home, you can exclude it.
You Cannot Leave the Home without Intent to Return
If you establish your home as your principal residence, the SSI does not keep track of how much time you spend there, nor does it require you to live there for a certain percentage of the year. If you use the home as your mailing address and for tax purposes, and you are registered to vote at that address, this is usually sufficient to prove that it is your primary residence.
But if your situation changes and you leave home, you might not get to exclude it from your assets any longer, mainly if you have no intention of returning. For instance, if you leave the Florida home that you own, move to New York, and change your state of residence and voter registration, SSI will probably require you to count the house toward your total assets as long as you still own it.
There are a few exceptions to this rule:
- You are moving to a nursing home or other institution, but your spouse is staying in the house
- You are fleeing the home because of domestic violence