Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Ozark this year but for some reason I feel like I’m talking more and more to people about moving money around to avoid problems with the government. In Ozark, Marty Byrde launders money for a drug cartel and is expert in shuffling money from one account to another.
Individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive funds each month into a bank account in their names or into a representative payee account. The federal SSI amount in 2022 is $841 for an individual and some states add to that. People receiving SSI cannot have more than $2,000 in countable resources or they face losing benefits.
You can see the problem. Within three months, a person will have $2,523 in that bank account and be over the resource limit. The problem compounds if the individual works.
Most people need some of that money to live and will stretch that time from three months to six to a year. Still, families worry that money will pile up and the programs that care for family members with disabilities will be lost. Remember that SSI is the easy way to gain access to Medicaid which pays for housing, food, medical expenses and access to community benefits.
So why do I feel like Marty Byrde? This year I have had regular conversations about strategies to keep funds in the bank below the $2,000 minimum and it always seems to involve moving money around. Here are several strategies to consider.
1. Spend the money.
The easiest way to get funds out of the bank is to spend it. The funds must be spent to benefit the person with the disability. Seems obvious but for some reason families don’t always get it. It’s easy enough to spend the money if your family member lives with you – charge your son or daughter for rent, food, a share of utilities, a cell phone and other needs. This will take all or most of the money in most cases. The funds come to you for specific costs and then you can use them however you want.
2. Fund an account for the future.
This is really #1, part B. If you charge rent, you can then set up an investment account with those funds as a way to save for your family member and then to fund a trust in the future. Keep those funds out of your family member’s name and in yours.
3. Move money to an ABLE account.
Set up an ABLE account and send transfers from the bank to the ABLE each month. An ABLE can be funded with up to $16,000 (in 2022) for a nonworking person.
4. Work with a pooled-income trust.
A pooled trust can be easier to start than a first-party funded trust and is usually operated by a nonprofit serving families with special-needs members. They hire professional management and provide a trustee to oversee funds. These can be quick to put in place and fund if you’re in a rush to move funds.
5. Open a new trust.
This is a complicated process that does not work in most cases. If you have one already, from something like an injury settlement, it could be an option.
6. Automate your actions.
Whatever you do, put something in place that sweeps funds from the rep payee account using automated actions. This way funds won’t pile up if you forget or are out of town.
Each of these strategies has unique planning, tax, estate planning and investment risks so make sure you work with your team to take the steps that work best for your situation.
There’s nothing illegal about spending SSI funds or moving it to an account to protect benefits. It’s smart planning as we look to preserve benefits, fund accounts for future needs and to build a high quality of life for each of our family members.