SSI Exclusions for Building Assets
Nuts & Bolts
This tool describes two key Supplemental Security Income (SSI) policies that allow beneficiaries to save money to support future employment and independence. These options are SSI’s Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account.
SSI Income and Resource Exclusions Aimed at Employment and Independence
The SSI program has some lesser-known exclusions from income and/or resources aimed at helping with employment and long-term independence. These include the following:
- Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
- Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account
- Section 529 College Savings account
- Special Needs Trust
Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS)
The Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) allows an individual to set aside income and/or resources that would otherwise count in determining SSI eligibility or payment amount. These funds must be used to pay for approved items and services to support a vocational goal. If a PASS proposal is approved by the SSI program, the money set aside will not count as income and the resources that are saved will not count toward the SSI $2,000 resource limit.
A PASS can be approved for whatever length of time is necessary to achieve the work goal. The SSI program’s PASS specialist can be expected to do a PASS progress review at least once per year, to make sure the person is complying with the approved plan.
Key Requirements for a PASS
To qualify for the PASS program, an SSI beneficiary must:
- Have a written proposal that includes a work goal (i.e., a specific job or profession).
- Outline steps that they will take to reach the work goal.
- Outline how money will be saved and spent on things that are crucial to reaching the work goal.
- State when (month and year) they will achieve the work goal.
Also, money earned in the final work goal must lead to a significant reduction in SSI payments; or if a person gets Social Security with no SSI prior to the PASS approval, the work must lead to a termination of Social Security Disability through earnings.
Expenses Allowed in an Approved PASS
All reasonable and necessary expenses are allowed, such as:
- College or training costs
- Transportation, including a vehicle lease or purchase
- Vehicle insurance, maintenance, repairs, and warranty costs
- Computer, software, and internet costs
- Work clothes, professional clothing, and childcare
- Business start-up costs
- Anything reasonably tied to the work goal
Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Account
An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows a “designated beneficiary” with a disability to save money for future Qualified Disability Expenses. ABLE accounts are authorized by section 529A of the Internal Revenue Code, which became law in late 2014. The first ABLE accounts became active in 2016, and there are now active accounts in more than 40 states. The recipient can establish an account in their own state, or if their state does not offer accounts, in any of 20 or more states that have a national ABLE account.
Designated beneficiaries must have a disability that was diagnosed before age 26. The age will increase to age 46 in January 2026. The individual can prove disability by showing they get a disability benefit from Social Security, providing a statement from a medical provider, or self-certifying and having evidence available if requested. Check your state’s ABLE account website for the rules to prove disability in your state.
ABLE Contributions and Distributions
Up to $17,000 can be contributed to the account in 2023 by the recipient, a family member, other third party, or a trust. Up to an additional $14,580 can be contributed out of a recipient’s annual earnings. Contributions by others, including contributions by a trust, are not considered income to the recipient by SSI or Medicaid. However, earned income of the qualified beneficiary still counts, even if the money is direct-deposited into an ABLE account.
Up to $100,000 in the account is considered by SSI to be an exempt resource. If account assets exceed $100,000 and put the recipient above SSI’s $2,000 resource limit, SSI is indefinitely suspended. If SSI is suspended because of excess ABLE account assets, Medicaid eligibility continues. If the account again falls below $100,000 SSI can be reinstated without a new application.
If account assets are distributed to pay for Qualified Disability Expenses (such as housing or transportation costs), the distributions are not counted as income by the SSI program or the Medicaid program.
Example of an ABLE Account: Cherise
Cherise is a high school student and an SSI beneficiary. During the summer, she works full-time. She uses the Student Earned Income Exclusion so that her earnings do not affect her SSI payment. She would like to save most of her wages toward the purchase of a van that she can drive from her wheelchair (with modifications to be funded by the VR agency).
Cherise deposits most of her summer earnings into an ABLE account. By the end of the summer, she has deposited $7,500. She hopes to deposit another $1,000 from her part-time work in September through November. Because it is an ABLE account, she can accumulate more than $2,000 in assets and keep her SSI eligibility. She will need to use her accumulated savings, however, for a Qualified Disability Expense. Her van purchase will qualify.
Other Strategies for Asset Accumulation to Support Work and Independence
SSI beneficiaries may also want to use a Section 529 College Savings Account and/or a Special Needs Trust to save money that will not impact SSI eligibility. A discussion of these tools for saving without impacting SSI eligibility or payment amount is beyond the scope of this toolkit. See the More Info page on this site for more information.