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How Should a Representative Payee Spend a Child's SSI Benefits?

Today we will be addressing a question that came to us through our interactive disability forum. If you have a question regarding any part of the Social Security Disability application process, leave it in the comment section below so that we can answer it in a future blog post. Today’s question is:

How should a representative payee spend a child's SSI benefits?

As the representative payee for your child’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, you are responsible for using the funds appropriately and for keeping accurate records of how the payments are spent.

Standard monthly benefit payments can be managed and used in certain ways, while significant back payments of retroactive benefits must be handled differently.

Dedicated Accounts for SSI Back Payments

If your child has recently been approved for SSI and is due a large back payment of benefits, then you will be required to open a dedicated bank account for the funds and the use of those funds will be subject to very specific restrictions.

  • The dedicated account must be a separate checking, savings, or money market account from the one that is used for standard monthly SSI benefits.
  • The funds in the account must be maintained separately from all other funds, including monthly benefit deposits from SSI.
  • The back payment funds cannot be used to purchase stocks, bonds, CDs, or any other form of secured or unsecured investment.
  • The account must be registered showing your child as the owner of the funds and any and all interest that may be accrued on the account.

Funds from your child’s dedicated account can be spent only on the following:

  • medical treatment and related expenses
  • educational expenses, including job and skills training costs
  • special equipment, skilled nursing assistance, home modification costs, and rehab or therapy expenses

Legal fees due to the attorney that assisted in your child’s SSI claim can also be paid from this account.

Regular Monthly Benefit Payments

Your child’s regular monthly SSI payments can be deposited into your standard savings, checking, or money market account, but you will still need to accurately track the manner in which those funds are spent and report that information to the SSA as required.

Monthly benefit payments can be spent on everyday living expenses and daily support needs. These can include any and all of the items listed under the authorized Dedicated Account spending, as well as the following:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • insurance costs
  • medical care
  • child care expenses
  • furnishing
  • personal comfort items

Keep in mind that the above listed items can only be used for the child earning the benefits.

Any monthly benefits that are not needed to pay for your child’s current-month expenses must be saved for future use. Many people find the easiest method for keeping track of their child’s benefit balance and spending details is to have a separate checking and/or savings account specifically for monthly SSI payments.

Periodic Spending Checks

The SSA conducts periodic checks on the spending practices of representative payees. Typically these reviews happen once a year. However, the SSA may require reporting as often as every three months for the duration of your child’s SSI eligibility.

If you aren’t sure if you are spending your child’s benefit payments correctly, you should contact the SSA representative who handles his or her claim. If a child’s payments are spent incorrectly, the representative payee may be required to reimburse any funds that were misused.

Please leave any Social Security Disability questions in the comment section below so that we can answer them in a future blog post!


If I know someone that has two child that gets disability and she basically uses the money to buy her New clothes and goes out to eat n take two vacations a month with their check after she buys them only one or two suits of clothes with them what should I do can't she get in trouble for that

Hi Chad,
Are you confident she isn't spending her child's SSI benefits on the child? My concern would be to risk the child losing his/her disability benefits due to a false accusation. If you're 100% sure that she is misusing the child's benefit, you could report this at 1-800-772-1213.

My children recently received a check (2 months prev) for disability benefits they are entitled to due to their father recently being disabled (we are no longer married). Moving forward, their money will be deposited to a debit card for use on their expenses. For this particular first time check for them, can I deposit into my account and use for current expenses immediately or am I required to save this into a completely separate account as a "savings" since it is 2 months backpay. I read that 6 months or more should be a designated account but less than that can be deposited and used. My children have expenses for food, shelter, medical, clothing this month that this can be used for being that it's only 2 months worth (kids are not disabled - their dad is) but I was not sure if I needed to save this and wait until next month to be deposited into the debit card. Thanks for your help!

Hi Laurie,
You should definitely put this in a separate account. Because they're receiving auxiliary benefits the SSA will likely not be as strict with back pay, but because they're children, it's better to be safe than sorry.

I had used some of the back pay 2,000 on fixing my car is that ok or not? Either way already done. I spent 383$ new tires alignment and oilchange

Hi Kelly,
No, this is likely not an approved payment. Back pay can ONLY be spent on improving the child's live, such as on doctors' appointments. Your child could lose his or her benefits.

Hi Kelly,
I am not sure! If you are able to do that, I would say it's a wise idea.

Hi Kelly,
Bed is fine. Gas is ok so long as you can definitively prove that the gas was used to and from trips to her doctor or school.

Just because car maintenance is not specifically listed, does not mean it can't be approved. It's common sense. How else do you get the children to doctor appointments and everywhere else they need to be? Usually, for me as a mom, just about everyplace I go is either directly or indirectly related to caring for the children.

Of course its ok to make car repairs since the car does infact have to transport the child... that is a no brainer... not having a way to get around would further impact the disability

Hi K,
That's a great point! Regardless, it's always good to check in with your SSA representative before making purchases that aren't explicitly listed as allowed.

My son's case manager gave me approval to use some of the back pay to fix my vehicle since we where not living on a bus line and it was my only way of getting him to and from school as well as all of his doctor appointments my back pay was also less than 6 months so that makes a difference as well . I hope that helps

You can spend back pay on a car, but it must be owned by and used by the beneficiary.

I have a friend who is so confused as to what shes allowed to purchase for her daughter who is on disability. Her caseworker told her she is not allowed to purchase glasses, medicine, clothes, etc for her daughter. So what is the purpose of her having an account for her if shes not allowed to spend the money on what she wants. Or even a computer to help her w her dyslexia. They told her she can buy her a bed and a dresser which she already has. Is there not a list she can look at online possibly??

Hi April,
The reason she can't spend it on what she wants is because all of the money needs to be spent on her daughter, not other items like car payments or credit card bills. She can likely get most purchases for her daughter approved, like a computer. She should just submit them ahead of time to make sure she does not face a penalty.

My 14 year old and my 12 year both get ss because thier father retired (and is fighting to stop child support because they get this benefit) How do you show money used for everyday things like groceries? Say I purchase a gallon of milk. I will probably drink some of that milk too. I dont have to shop seperatly for my daughter do I?

Hi Terri,
I do not believe so. That would be ridiculous. Because your daughters are not actually disabled and are just receiving benefits off of their fathers' account, they will not have the same asset limitations other children have.

Hi I s it ok to have a new car. We were una bad accident and car was totaled. My asd 10 year old doesn't do very good riding public bus. Have been asked to get off before so I need car. I'm a single mom and can't afford to be in a used car and paying for repairs or getting stranded somewhere. I qualified for a new car and went ahead and got one making payments and didn't put money down because I had no money for down payment. I work full time and some overtime to make my car payment.

Hi Jackie,
You will need to clear this purchase with the SSA rep who handles your son's case to be sure!

Hi there,
You can definitely use it on a new bed for your son. As for the refrigerator, you will need to be able to show that your current fridge is not working at all and your son needs one for a fresh food supply.

My son who is 22 applied for SSI ...... he can not manage monies on his own i remember in the past i had a form signed by his doctor that he is not capable of handling his money what is this form called and where can i get one thanks

Hi Debbie,
If he is approved for benefits and the SSA determines that he does not need a representative payee, you will not be able to take control of his benefits. If he DOES need a representative payee, you will need to schedule an appointment with your local SSA office to file the paperwork.

Hi! I have a question on how I'm able to pay for my son's needs. He has his own account, savings. That is what his checks are deposited into.

I have things I need to purchase for him (large sized cloth diapers), but cannot buy those items for his care in a local store with cash. How else am I able to order it online? I don't want to mix his funds with my bank account as I believe it's not allowed. Is there another more appropriate way to go about it?

Hi KG,
I am not sure how you could do this. Is it possible for you to get a debit card where you can order items online and withdraw from his own account?

My son and daughter are both very young and on SSI for severe Autism (non-verbal) I recently separated from my wife of 19 years, and she is under the impression that since they currently live with her until the Child Legal Decision Making court order is issued (I petitioned for sole decision making because she has convictions of DV) that as the Representative Payee I am supposed to pay her Rent, Power, Gas, Phone, Water, and everything with only a few necessities going to the children's benefit because "they live with her?" I don't understand why a grown woman needs to live completely off her own children's benefits, and not work or anything. She keeps saying Rent, Food, and Shelter are a must for them - but she benefits too? Are the kids benefit designed to support my ex-wife at 100% simply because they live there too at ages 4 and 5? It doesn't seem correct in the design for benefits to be spent?

Hi George,
I am very sorry to hear that. You can spend monthly benefits on items like rent and gas if the children live in the household so long as it's cleared with an SSA representative (NOT back pay though). I'd consider speaking with the SSA rep who handles your claim to see if you have any options for handling how she spends the money.

I think the children need a state representative since being that you are in the middle of divorce.. you are not a good candidate. You are unable to be impartial and seem to want to hurt or punish your x.

Hi K,
That's a great point! It's possible to assign someone who is not a parent to be a representative payee, and it may be a good idea in some cases.

My son just got his first backpay in his bank account, is it ok for me to spend the money on a car seat for him and vehicle repairs? We make multiple trips to drs and therapy a week due to his medical condition

Hi Charity,
Car seat, absolutely. As for the vehicle repairs, you definitely need to check in with your SSA representative. Back pay has very strict limits on how it can be spent.

My wife and I took parental custody of my little brother who has down syndrome and autism. He is receiving monthly SSI. He is only 8, but due to his disabilities he will need medical procedures his entire life. Can we save any of his monthly money that is not used in a savings account for future use? Any advise would be appreciated.

Hi Hector,
You will need to set up an account through the ABLE act. This allows families to save funds for children or adults with disabilities, up to $100,000. I am not sure if you can save his monthly SSI benefits, but you can submit any other forms of income. Check with your local SSA office to see if your state has enabled the ABLE act.

I have a friends who just turn 18 and because of that her mother is saying that they will lose their benefits for the other three kids and that she will have to pay a certain amount or they will garnish my friends wages

Hi Anthony,
I'll need more details. I'm not really sure what you mean by this. Is the 18 year old on SSI or SSDI? Why would they garnish the friends' wages?

my brother in law only adopted a spec needs child so he could get the money...very sad. She is now 28 years old and is still getting checks. Him and my sister in law only work part time, and live with my retired mother in law. The brother in law takes the check every month, and uses it to pay the whole rent with it. Shouldn't she only need to be paying for her part of the rent? I can't prove it, only hear say from mother in law. My brother in law and sister in law are in debt up to their eye balls and then some. He won't work full time cause he's too lazy and doesn't want his debts to be garnished from his wages. How can I go about trying to get his hands off this girls money?? When she turned 18, and wouldn't be getting as much money, he wanted to adopt another spec needs child to get more money. The daughter they have is a crack baby and has a lot of physical and mental problems, she not one that could ever live on her own, alone. Any suggestions? I'd like to do this without any family members knowing that I'm trying to do.

Thank you

Hi Kelly,
You can report the fraud here:
Keep in mind that you will need to state your ss# to report the fraud, but this should NOT notify the family of who actually reported the fraud.

I had my son at 24 weeks gestation and he survived. He's going to have to see special doctors since was born extremely premature, until he doesn't need the extra treatment anymore. He was approved for SSI. Does this mean I can get him a crib, stroller,and toys? Also if I don't use up all the money for the month, does it just add up in the account?

Hi Monica,
Absolutely! Just be careful if you are buying toys with his back pay. You may need to clear that with the SSA first. If you do not use all of your monthly SSI benefits, your benefits may be reduced. I'd highly recommend spending it all every month.

Regarding a minors auxiliary and survivor benifits: How does this differ from a minor receiving disability, and what are examples of things these monies can be spent on? Also is a dedicated account required for nondisabled children?

Hi Sharon,
The fundamental difference is that survivors/auxiliary benefits are SSDI benefits, while disabled children receive SSI benefits. It is not necessary to set up a dedicated account for SSDI benefits. You can also save SSDI benefits if you have extra at the end of the month (which is not true for SSI benefits). SSDI benefits can be spent on anything for the wellbeing of the child. SSI benefits can as well, but SSI back pay can only be spent on medical care, therapy, or house modifications for the child.

My stepdaughter gets SSI for a birth injury, her mother told us she took all the money out of her account with her backed SSI in it for the down payment on the house, is this allowed?!?

Absolutely not. You should go to your SSI office immediately and report his as fraud and see if another representative payee can be appointed to your stepddaugher.

Hi Chynna,
I would call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to make sure first. You may have to return some of the funds.

Is a child at the age of 13 in his or her parents house supposed to have their ssi money to spend on whatever they want. If my moms son age 13 is demanding his money what are the rules.