What Are Household Goods and Personal Effects and Why Do They Matter?

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) is deciding whether you qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), they look to see if you have too much income or own too much property. They believe that if you own something of value that you don’t truly need, you should sell it and use that money to meet your needs. However, they make exceptions for property that they consider to be “household goods and personal effects.” These items they believe you should be able to keep and continue to use personally.

So at some point when SSA is determining your eligibility for SSI, they will review all of your property to see if it is excluded from their calculations and not counted against your eligibility or whether that property should be classified as a “resource” that is counted against your eligibility. In many cases, the reason you acquired the property and the way you use the property make a big difference in whether it is counted against you. For instance, jewelry can be treated as a personal effect if it’s a family heirloom or wedding ring or something you’ve been wearing a long time, but it will be considered a “resource” if you recently bought it as an investment.

The Definition of Household Goods

The SSA describes household goods as property in or around your home that you use on a regular basis to live in and maintain your home. They give some examples, but other things can be considered even if they are not on the list.

Household goods could include:

  • Furniture
  • Appliances such as a microwave or toaster oven
  • Electronic equipment such as TVs and computers
  • Rugs
  • Tools for cooking and utensils for eating
  • Dishes

Many items that are not on this list can be excluded from your resources as household goods if you use them regularly. However, even if an item is on the list, the SSA might not treat it as household goods if they determine that you bought it or are keeping it just because it is valuable.

The Definition of Personal Effects

Personal effects can be a little harder to classify than household goods are. The SSA describes personal effects as items you ordinarily wear or carry or items that have a special meaning to you. Just as with household goods, the agency provides a list of examples of items that can be treated as personal effects. These include:

  • Your own personal jewelry such as engagement rings
  • Clothes and personal care items
  • Your pets
  • Items you use for hobbies, recreation, and education such as musical instruments and books
  • Items that have religious or cultural significance to you such as special clothing worn for ceremonies
  • Items you need because of physical or mental impairment such as a wheelchair or prosthetic device

Remember, however, that if you are keeping the item because of its value rather than its meaning or usefulness, the SSA could consider it a resource rather than personal effect, and that means they count the value when determining your eligibility for SSI benefits.

The agency gives examples of property that could be counted as a resource. Precious gems and jewelry without family significance could be counted as resources. Animals used as investments or to produce income would also be resources.

As a more detailed example, SSA explains that if a woman received $10,000 from insurance and used $3,000 to buy jewelry as an investment, that jewelry should be treated as a resource rather than a personal effect even though she wore the jewelry regularly. The fact that she bought it as an investment because of its value was the deciding factor in how that jewelry would be treated.

Help Maintaining Eligibility for SSI and Other Benefits

CPT Institute is a nonprofit trustee that helps injured and at risk clients preserve their eligibility for government benefits while taking full advantage of available resources. To learn more about how we could help in your situation, contact us today.