For those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the short answer is yes, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can check your bank accounts because you have to give them permission to do so. For those receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or regular Social Security Retirement Benefits, the short answer is no.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are separate programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSI provides government funds to cover the basic needs of people who have little to no income and are blind, disabled, or over 65 years old. SSDI, on the other hand, is income provided to people who are unable to work due to severe conditions that prevents them from doing even basic work-related tasks.
Whether or not someone is eligible for SSDI is based on their record of work activity which may allow someone to become eligible for SSDI benefits. A person’s assets are unrelated to their eligibility to collect SSDI benefits, so the SSA does not care if an SSDI applicant has $100 or $100,000 in the bank. As a recipient of SSDI benefits, you can make deposits into a bank account without worrying about being monitored by the SSA.
SSI is a need-based program, meaning a person’s “resources,” or assets, are taken into consideration. When filing a claim for SSI, an individual must give the SSA the right to use it’s Access to Financial Institutions (AFI), given to it by Congress in 1999, to contact financial institutions and request any records related to the applicant. This permission must be given on the initial application as well as subsequent reviews for SSI. AFI also detects undisclosed accounts by searching for accounts geographically near the SSI applicant or beneficiary.
Information from financial institution accounts that can be requested by the SSA includes bank savings and checking accounts, as well as money market accounts, credit union accounts, certificate of deposits and more. If the account is a joint account, then the SSA considers all of the money to be that of the applicant.
The SSA is not concerned with how you spend your money, they are concerned with the total countable assets you own. These assets do not include the house you live in or your primary automobile, but any additional real estate or additional vehicles are considered countable assets for their purposes.
To be eligible for SSI benefits, the current maximum countable asset amount is $2000, $3000 if married. This means that if a single person has no other countable assets, then he or she can have up to $2000 in a bank account and still not be ruled out for benefits based on assets.
In summary, to receive SSI, you must give the SSA permission to use its AFI to request your financial records from your bank or credit union. If you are applying for SSDI or regular Social Security benefits, the the SSA has no reason to check your bank account and does not have legal permission to do so.