If you find yourself unable to work, it is important to know what your claim options are.

Many people don’t understand the differences between Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Both programs are overseen and/or managed by the Social Security Administration, and medical eligibility for both is also determined in the same manner.

However, that’s about as far as the commonalities go, as they are two different governmental programs.

What are the Differences Between SSI and SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to people who are medically eligible AND have a work history of paying into the Social Security program. There are no household asset or income limits.

Supplemental security income (SSI) is available to people who are medically eligible but do not have a sufficient work history. SSI is need-based and only available to those who fall under strict income and asset limits. 

Social Security Disability Insurance

Social security disability (SSDI) is available to workers who have accumulated a sufficient number of work credits, which are funded through payroll taxes.

SSDI recipients are considered “insured” and have contributed to social security trust funds in the form of FICA Social Security taxes. (State and local government and school board employees generally pay into a separate retirement system and not into the Social Security program.) 

Who is Eligible: SSDI monthly cash benefits and Medicare entitlements are payable to disabled workers, widows, widowers, and adults disabled since childhood if they are otherwise eligible and younger than 65. You cannot be on SSDI disability once you hit full retirement age.

Under SSDI, the recipient’s family (e.g. spouse/children) is eligible to receive partial dependent benefits known as “auxiliary benefits.”

Medical Requirements: To qualify for SSDI, the applicant must pass Social Security's evaluation process to determine disability eligibility. For disabled workers, your disability must keep you from doing any kind of work ("Substantial Gainful Activity") and be expected to last for 12 months or result in death.

Work Requirements: To qualify for SSDI, the worker must earn a certain level of credits based on taxable work. Generally, you must have worked and paid into Social Security for at least 5 out of the last 10 years prior to the date you became disabled. If you are under the age of 30, separate rules may apply.

Income and Asset Limits: SSDI has no asset limits and no limits on household income.

However, there are strict limits on how much the applicant can be working and earning. If the applicant is still working, it is unlikely that they will be found disabled under Social Security's rules no matter how severe their impairments may be.

Waiting Period: It is important to note there is a five-month waiting period for these particular benefits.

Benefit Amount: Under this program, monthly disability payments are based on your individual earning record. The amount of your benefit will be calculated using a formula based on your average earnings for all of the years you have been working, not just your most recent salary.

Medicare: In cases of SSDI applicants, disabled persons generally become eligible for Medicare when they have received SSDI for two years.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental security income (SSI) is a federal financial assistance program that is strictly need-based. This means that applications are considered based on two factors before medical evidence is ever considered: income and assets.

Who is Eligible: SSI makes monthly payments to people who are blind, disabled, or age 65 or older who have low income and limited resources, meet certain living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible.

The Social Security Administration manages the SSI program, but SSI is not paid for by Social Security taxes. SSI is paid for by U.S. Treasury general funds.

Disabled or blind children and those who have never worked or whose work history has not earned them enough credits to qualify for SSDI may receive consideration for disability benefits under the SSI program.

Income and Asset Limits: To meet the SSI income requirements, individual applicants must have less than $2,000 in assets (or $3,000 for couples), in addition to very limited household income.

Medical Requirements: To qualify for SSDI, the applicant must pass Social Security's evaluation process to determine disability eligibility. For disabled workers, your disability must keep you from doing any kind of work ("Substantial Gainful Activity") and be expected to last for 12 months or result in death.

Work Requirements: SSI has no past work requirements. SSI disability benefits are available to low-income individuals who have either never worked or who haven’t earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

Benefit Amount: The amount an eligible person can receive is largely dependent on where they live, and the amount of regular, monthly income they maintain. SSI payments are capped in most states at $914 (for 2023) and deductions can be made from that for income and in-kind support. The amount you receive for SSI does not change based on your age or the reason you are receiving benefits.

Waiting Period: SSI benefits begin on the first of the month of your submitted application.

Medicaid: When it comes to SSI, disabled people who are eligible under the income requirements for SSI can typically receive Medicaid in the state they reside in.

Food Stamps: In most cases, those who qualify for SSI can also qualify for food stamps.

How do I know if I have enough work credits for SSDI?

You can check your SSDI eligibility in two ways.

  1. You can visit my Social Security to see if you have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. Scroll down, and look under “More Benefits."
  2. You can also call Social Security directly at 1-800-772-1213 and ask them for your “Date Last Insured” or "DLI"

If you did not become disabled prior to your DLI, you are likely not eligible for SSDI benefits on your own record. 

If you are not eligible for SSDI benefits, then you will need to apply for SSI. Keep in mind that for SSI, you must meet the strict income and asset requirements as defined by the Social Security Administration.

SSI vs SSDI: An Infographic

SSI & SSDI differences


Loyd J. Bourgeois
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