If you get married, can you keep disability benefits?

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Q. Why are there people on SSDI who are married? I’ve heard you can’t get married and keep the benefits.
— Not getting it

A. Social Security is complex.

And some, but not all, people receiving disability benefits are subject to a so-called marriage penalty, which can reduce or eliminate their benefits if they get married.

Social Security offers Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) programs to help people who meet Social Security’s requirements as having a qualifying disability, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

There are some differences in the programs, but both require that you meet Social Security’s qualifying disability requirements, she said.

SSI assists adults and children who qualify as disabled and have limited income and resources. This is needs based.

SSDI pays you and certain family members if the requirements of working long enough, working recently enough and having paid Social Security taxes on your income are met. This is insurance based – you have to meet the sufficient work history and tax payment requirement to be considered “insured,” Kane said.

She said SSI participants may be subject to the marriage penalty.

“If you have a life change like getting married, your household finances may change,” she said. “This change can push you above the threshold and you may have your benefits reduced or lose eligibility for SSI.”

If you and your spouse each receive SSI before getting married, then your individual benefit would change to a couple’s rate when you got married, she said.
Because SSDI is based on your own work history and medical condition, it is not subject to the marriage penalty, she said. However, if you qualify based on a spouse’s or parent’s work history, then you may be subject to it.

It’s always important to speak to the Social Security office to fully understand the program that you are eligible for and any penalties you may be subject to if your income or marital status changes.

Also note there was a bill introduced to congress in January 2022 called the Marriage Equality for Disabled Adult Act, which proposes to eliminate the marriage penalty for some people who are SSI eligible, Kane said.

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This story was originally published on Oct. 3, 2022.

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