Keeping Track of SSI Benefits Expenses

Record keeping and money management for SSI benefits. What expenses should be tracked for Social Security Income and how to do it for your adult child.

By Rick Smith

What can the SSI benefits money be spent on?

There are guidelines but seemingly few hard and fast rules. By reading a lot, it seems to me that food and lodging are considered first priority expenses. After that, clothes, health care and transportation are probably second tier priorities. Education and job training are important as well. Beyond that, the money can be spent for the emotional well being and recreation of the recipient. But given the amounts involved, there isn't much left for that.

Does my disabled child have to do the 'spending' and manage the money?

No. Adult recipients can receive the money directly if they can handle it. But for minor children and adults where it makes more sense, SS will appoint a "responsible payee" to receive the check and manage the money. In the case of my adult child, Social Security determined that he needed another adult to be the responsible payee. This way he will use the money appropriately and keep good track of the money coming and going. Also there is less risk of someone taking advantage of him, a continual worry for parents of children with autism or other developmental delays.

What does Social Security want to know about how the money is being spent?

The instructions for a responsible payee suggest that some kind of annual reporting must be done. While I have not crossed this bridge myself as yet, others have told me that it is a relatively high level summary (perhaps a one page form) of expenses grouped in certain categories similar to the priorities I mentioned above.

How are you managing the funds to get the benefit and keep records?

We believe our son can do most of this himself over time. So we set up a system designed to (1) have him participate in money handling and management, and (2) keep the necessary records. This is a learning system to teach him to manage money, with an eye toward future independence. Since he has a severe math disability, plus cerebral palsy, we needed to set up a system that takes this into account.

He now has a checking and savings account which are the initial places where the money is deposited. These accounts are largely used for cash and paying bills. While it takes him up to many minutes to write a check, this helps him remember where the money has been spent and provides good record keeping. We hope it will lead him to understand the cause and effect of income and expenses, on a more intuitive basis.

Since he has started college, we opted to have him apply for the kind of student credit card that comes with a miniscule initial balance. He will use that card for many school and eating expenses. It also will produce a convenient spending record. In addition, the smallish balance will help limit the amount of spending that can be done on the card and minimize damage if lost or stolen.

Beyond that, he can write checks for doctor bills, college tuition, and other bigger expenses. Sometimes we buy things on his behalf; he refunds those expenditures with a check. In all cases, his bank statement provides information for tracking.

So far we have not opted for a 'check card.' Our son is pretty frugal, but the check card's limit is the amount in the bank. So we have decided not to tempt fate in that manner as yet.

Cash is the most difficult and we try to minimize its use. He has an ATM card but we have focused on having him go into the bank as a learning experience. We are trying to corral the receipts for cash purchases after he comes back home.

Rick Smith: Recently, my adult child was notified by Social Security of his eligibility for benefits based on his multiple disabilities. Before applying to Social Security, we found much detailed information but few summaries about the process in plain language. I write this synopsis as a Dad who navigated the process rather than with the legal authority of a lawyer. If you wish more detail or want additional verification, please consult a professional. Or you may wish to check into these recent books on Social Security.