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Is There A “Lookback” Period For Transfers Under SSI Rules?


The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two programs that pay benefits to individuals who suffer from a disabling medical condition that prevents them from working, and one is needs-based. Under rules governing the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, individuals qualify if their income and assets fall below a minimum threshold established by SSA. In 2022, the earnings limit is $19,560 annually. As far as assets, your “countable resources” must be less than $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a married couple.

Living with a disability and being unable to work puts people in dire financial straits, often motivating them to sidestep eligibility rules for SSI. A common strategy is mishandling assets to meet the countable resources limit and, as you might expect, SSA anticipated this tactic. There are penalties that aim to thwart transfers, though you can accomplish certain goals with the help of a Maryland Social Security disability attorney. An overview about the SSI “lookback” period is also useful.

Transfers That Could Trigger Penalties 

Real estate, personal property, bank accounts, and other assets that you own individually or in a trust that you control are considered when applying for SSI. When you own too much, a basic sales transaction would not take you below the $2,000/$3,000 threshold: You took cash, which is now also a countable resource belonging to you. Two ways to circumvent the rule are:

  1. Give away assets.
  2. Sell them for less than fair market value.

By transferring to someone you know, you could maintain control and enjoy all the benefits of ownership without being the legal owner. You retain both the asset AND your right to SSI benefits.

The Lookback Period for SSI Purposes 

To reduce the potential of abuse, SSA will review all asset transfers you complete within the 36 months prior to applying for SSI. When officials detect an improper transfer for less than fair market value, the penalty is calculated according to a formula:

  • The total value of the assets that were transferred
  • Divided by
  • The payment you would receive for SSI on the date of the transfer.
  • The result is the number of months that you are ineligible for SSI benefits, up to a maximum of 36 months.

Certain Assets and Transfers are Exempt 

SSA will not issue a penalty under designated circumstances, particularly transfers of assets to a spouse. There is also an exception for certain trusts, but only when you are not the trustee or beneficiary. Note that SSA presumes transfers are made for purposes of SSI eligibility, but this is rebuttable by proof to the contrary.

You Can Trust a Maryland SSI Benefits Lawyer with Key Details 

SSA lookback rules could lead to penalties, but you avoid problems when you have guidance from a knowledgeable attorney. For more information on managing countable resources to leverage SSI eligibility, please contact the Law Offices of Steinhardt, Siskind and Lieberman, LLC. We can set up a no-cost consultation at our offices in Glen Burnie, Owings Mills, Ellicott City, or Annapolis, MD. After assessing your circumstances, we can advise you on strategies.

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