gofundmeJob losses and medical expenses are the leading causes of bankruptcy in the U.S. Social Security Disability beneficiaries, know all too well about this double-whammy of job loss and high medical expenses. It is no wonder then that they sometimes turn to online fundraising through sites like GoFundMe, YouCaring, or Fundly. Unfortunately, if you are not careful raising money this way can jeopardize benefits like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and, depending on which disability program you have qualified for, it can have a negative impact on your Social Security disability benefits.

Can fundraising reduce my disability benefits?

If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, a crowdsourcing campaign will have no affect on your benefits. There are no financial restrictions around gifts or fundraising. 

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is totally different. Because it is a needs-based program for individuals with no income or very little income, there are earned income and unearned income limits that you may not exceed. Social Security will also take into consideration the amount of your assets. To be eligible for SSI, your assets must be less than $2,000 for an individual and less than $3,000 for a married couple.

However, not all assets count towards the resource limits. The Social Security Administration lists 44 resource exclusions. The major exclusions include:

  • The house you live in*
  • The vehicle you drive*
  • Household goods (furniture, etc.)
  • Personal effects (jewelry, artwork, etc.) as long as the SSI claimant is actually using the items. 
  • Up to $100,000 in an ABLE account
  • Assets in a special needs trust

* It is important to note that land you don’t live on and multiple cars are not excludable. They do count towards your asset limit. 

(For more on disability benefits and assets read our blog article: Do assets affect my ability to receive Social Security disability benefits?)


Can a family member or a friend set up a fundraiser for me?

This is a risky idea. Social Security does not have clear rules for when someone else collects crowdsourced money and then pays for something for you. But if any money is given directly to you, or if your bank account or Social Security number is attached to the fundraiser, the money collected will be treated as income to you. If someone else collects funds and directly pays for your housing costs, utilities, or groceries, under SSI rules Social Security will consider this as “in kind support and maintenance” and will reduce your check for the months when this happens.


How can I fundraise without risking my disability benefits?

Fundraise through an online site that pays your medical bills directly like Help Hope Live. They do not give you any money. Instead, they collect money for you and pay your medical bills directly. Since no funds go to you it will not impact SSI or most benefits programs. Additionally, because Help Hope Live is a non-profit organization, donations are tax deductible. Charity Navigator awards Help Hope Live a four-start rating and says, “if this organization aligns with your passions and values, you can give with confidence.”

Loans from friends or family, in general, do not count as income for SSI purposes. However, cash loans can be a countable resource if you save the money instead of spending it. Loans must be properly documented with a valid loan agreement and a contract must be signed before you receive the money. 

ABLE accounts and trusts are not counted as assets.  With an ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts, individuals and families can establish accounts to set aside as much as $100,000 to be used for the education, housing, assistive technology, and other needs of disabled persons. Most special needs trusts are also excluded. Friends or family can deposit funds into a Special Needs Trust or ABLE account for you. A cautionary note: if the money goes to you first it will count as income. Checks must be written and deposited directly to the trust or ABLE account.

The Special Needs Alliance sums up the issue of crowdsourcing this way: “It’s unfortunate that good intentions can become so complicated. While successful crowdfunding can profoundly improve someone’s quality of life, careful planning is needed to ensure that it doesn’t have the opposite effect.”


How can I get reliable advice about Social Security disability benefits?

The requirements for SSDI and SSI are complicated and Social Security has an application with many questions to determine your eligibility. If you are considering applying for Social Security disability benefits or if you applied and were turned down for benefits, it is only natural that you will have many questions. Let the experienced disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law help you navigate the complicated and oftentimes confusing path to winning Social Security disability benefits. Call or email us today for a free evaluation of your case. 




Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska