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|Quick Answer: SSI is a needs-based federal program designed to provide financial support to older people or people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. SSDI is a federal program that provides financial support to people with disabilities based on their work history and Social Security contributions.
Many federal benefit programs provide financial assistance to people with disabilities — two of the most common are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
While SSI and SSDI both provide benefits designed to help people with disabilities and are run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they differ significantly.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at each program, breaking down the key differences between SSI vs. SSDI, who qualifies for them, and how to apply.
What Is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
SSI is a needs-based federal program designed to provide financial support to older people or people with disabilities who have limited income and resources. It aims to ensure a basic income level for people who may not qualify for SSDI based on work history.
What Is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
SSDI is a federal program that provides financial assistance to people with disabilities based on their work history and contributions to the Social Security system. It offers support to those who become disabled and cannot work, providing them with a source of income derived from their prior employment.
What Is the Difference Between SSI and SSDI?
Now that you know what SSI and SSDI are, let’s break down the key differences between them.
SSI is a need-based benefit, meaning you can qualify if you are over 65 or disabled and have limited income and resources. You don’t need a work history or to have paid Social Security taxes to qualify; however, your income and other financial resources must not exceed certain thresholds.
To qualify for SSI, you must:
- Have a disability, blindness, or be 65 or older
- Have a disability that prevents substantial gainful activity
- Have a disability that is expected to last at least 12 continuous months or result in death
- Earn no more than $1,971 from work each month
- Have resources (bank accounts, vehicles, etc.) below $2,000
- Be a U.S. citizen or fall into a qualified non-citizen category
SSDI is an earned benefit, which means you can qualify if you are disabled, have a work history, and have paid Social Security taxes, accumulating work credits. The length of work needed to qualify depends on how old you were when your disability occurred. If you’ve had a disability since childhood, you might still get SSDI on a parent’s record, even without personal work credits. Work credits are units earned through work and income, an important factor in determining SSDI eligibility.
To qualify for SSDI, you must:
- Have enough recent work credits from employment with Social Security taxes
- Have a qualifying disability that prevents substantial gainful activity
- Not earn above $1,550 ($2,590 if blind) per month in substantial gainful activity
- Be below the full retirement age of 62
- Be a U.S. citizen or fall into a qualified non-citizen category
SSI is funded through general tax revenues. Your SSI eligibility is based on your income and resources, not your work history.
SSDI is funded through your Social Security payroll taxes, known as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). You contribute to the SSDI fund through these payroll taxes during your working years.
For SSI, the monthly maximum federal amounts for 2024 are:
- $943 for an eligible person
- $1,415 for an eligible person with an eligible spouse
- $472 for an essential person
As for SSDI, the benefit amount is based on your average lifetime earnings before becoming disabled. So, the more you contribute to Social Security through payroll taxes, the higher your SSDI benefit. As of 2024, the average monthly SSDI benefit is around $1,537, but amounts can vary based on your earning history.
Work History Implications
SSI is not tied to work history but centers on financial need, limited income, and resources. It serves as a safety net for those lacking sufficient work credits or facing financial hardship due to a disability.
SSDI is linked to work history and depends on accumulating work credits through employment and payment of Social Security taxes. More work credits mean higher potential SSDI benefits. SSDI is meant to support people who’ve been active in the workforce but can no longer work due to a disability.
SSI offers monthly paid benefits determined by the federal benefit rate (FBR), which some states can supplement. In most states, if you receive SSI, you’re also automatically eligible for Medicaid.
SSDI tends to offer a higher monthly payment amount based on work history. You can also become eligible for Medicare after a 24-month waiting period from the onset of your disability.
|Based on financial need, limited income, and resources
|Based on work credits earned through employment
|Funded by general tax revenues
|Funded through Social Security payroll taxes (FICA)
|Varies by state; average $943 per month for individuals, $1,415 for couples
|Based on average lifetime earnings; average $1,537 per month
|Work history implications
|Not dependent on work history; available to those with limited or no work history
|Requires a minimum number of work credits; based on individual contributions to Social Security
|Monthly paid benefits; eligible for Medicaid in most states
|Higher monthly payments compared to SSI; eligible for Medicare
Frequently Asked Questions
Want to learn more about SSI vs. SSDI? We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about each program.
Can I Receive Both SSI and SSDI?
Yes, it’s possible to receive both SSI and SSDI benefits at the same time if you meet the eligibility criteria for both programs. You can qualify for both if you have limited income and resources as well as a recent and sufficient work history.
Which Is Better: SSI or SSDI?
Determining whether SSI or SSDI is “better” depends on which program you qualify for. SSDI may give you more money based on your work history, but you must’ve paid into the system. On the other hand, you don’t need a specific work history for SSI, but you can’t qualify if you make more than a certain amount of money or have enough financial resources.
How Do I Apply for SSI or SSDI?
You can apply for SSI or SSDI benefits online or by calling the toll-free SSA number at 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, use the toll-free “TTY” number, 1-800-325-0778, available Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Visit the SSA website to learn more about the disability determination process.
Why Am I on SSI and Not SSDI?
If you’re on SSI and not SSDI, it may be due to a lack of sufficient or recent work credits. To qualify for SSDI, you must have a disability that prevents substantial gainful activity and have enough recent work credits from employment with Social Security taxes.
Why Is SSDI So Hard To Get?
SSDI is often considered hard to get due to the strict eligibility requirements and lengthy approval process. The SSA rejects many applicants’ initial claims due to a lack of medical evidence or missing information, which can lead to a significant backlog in processing claims. It’s essential to submit your application the right way the first time to speed up your approval rate.
How Much Can You Get From SSI and SSDI?
In 2024, the maximum monthly SSI payment is $943 for one person and $1,415 for a couple.
Payments from SSDI may fluctuate based on your average lifetime earnings before becoming disabled. The typical SSDI monthly payment has varied between $800 and $1,800 in the last five years. The average for 2024 is around $1,537.
Benefits.com Can Help Find the Right Program for You
Although these programs are often confused, the differences between SSI vs. SSDI are substantial. At Benefits.com, our goal is to assist every U.S. resident in understanding government programs so you can find the optimal benefit plan for you. Explore your eligibility through our Benefits Quiz to maximize your potential benefits.