Gift cards/gift certificates can be a great gift for a special occasion, birthdays, appreciation, or even holidays. However, it can have a negative impact on an individual who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Family and friends should err on the side of caution if they are considering to purchase gift cards for their loved ones who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).​Due to Social Security Administration (SSA) rules and regulations, gift cards/gift certificates are considered as unearned income in the month received because they can be used to purchase food or shelter or can be resold (SI 00830.522). If there are funds still remaining on the gift card it will be a resource beginning of the month following the month it was received. However, a gift card/gift certificate is not considered income in the month it is received if it cannot be used to purchase food or shelter, and cannot be resold for cash.

However, if a gift card/gift certificate was given from FEMA or other government agency in providing assistance during emergency situations, then the gift card/certificate will be excluded (SI 00830.620 and SI 01130.620.). If the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that a gift card/certificate is unearned income or resource, the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient will have his/her benefit reduced dollar for dollar.

The easiest way to avoid the problem is to not give an Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary any kind of gift card/certificate for any reason. If a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary receives a gift card/gift certificate, the best course of action would be to report to the Social Security Administration (SSA) regardless. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides steps to apply appropriate rules on how to count gift cards/certificates as well as specific examples to refer to.

Sam receives a visa gift card in the amount of $200 to be used anywhere where visa is accepted. There are restrictions held on the gift card, which include that the visa gift card cannot be sold for cash or given to anyone else other than the intended recipient. Even though there are indicated restrictions from being resold, there are no restrictions to purchasing food or shelter items. Since there are no restrictions on purchasing food or shelter items, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will noted the gift card/certificate as unearned income.

​John receives a gift card/certificate in the amount of $50 to a clothing store. There are restrictions on the card/certificate restricting its use to only clothing and cannot be resold. Since the recipient cannot purchase any food or shelter and cannot sell the card/certificate, the card/certificate will not be counted as either a resource or income.