SSDI vs SSI: What's the Difference and For Which Do I Qualify?

Published on: October 9, 2017

What are the real differences between SSI and SSDI?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) operates two programs that are aimed at providing assistance to disabled Americans. If you have a permanent disability that prevents you from working, you can qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both.

SSDI provides benefits to individuals who can no longer work due to a medically determinable condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. On the other hand, SSI offers benefits to individuals based on financial need. It does not consider how much you have worked when determining eligibility.

There are important differences to consider between the two programs in terms of eligibility, the application process, as well as receiving your benefits.

Eligibility for SSDI or SSI

If you are disabled, you may be wondering for which of these two programs you’re eligible. Eligibility for SSDI is primarily based your average lifetime earnings that are covered by Social Security and are calculated as work credits. In other words, you must have worked for a certain amount of time and paid into the social security system in order to claim SSDI benefits.

SSDI Eligibility Requirements

When you apply for SSDI, the SSA determines whether you have worked enough by converting all your earnings into work credits. The following formula is normally used to calculate work credits: One work credit = $1,300 in net earnings.

You can accumulate a maximum of 4 work credits in one year (which amounts to a maximum of $5,200 in total earned income). If you earn a minimum of one work credit a year, the SSA determines that you have paid enough into social security for that year.

Therefore, the number of work credits you need to become eligible for SSDI is dependent on how recently you worked and for how long. Learn more about the age-specific requirements for work credits on the SSA website.

SSI eligibility requirements

On the other hand, eligibility for SSI is not based on work credits. Rather, it is based solely on need and eligibility is determined according to your income and assets. The value of your assets must be less than $2,000 for singles and $3,000 for couples. You may be eligible to receive conditional payments while selling excess resources.

The list of items or properties the SSA determines as resources include cash, bank accounts, real estate, and stock/bonds. Certain property items, such as your personal car and home of residence, typically are not counted toward your resources.

The SSA also determines how much income you’re earning when you apply for SSI. Your countable monthly income should not exceed the maximum federal base rate of $735 per month for individuals and $1,103 per month for couples in 2017. The SSA website provides a detailed list of SSI eligibility requirements.

If you are 65 or older and meet the income requirements, you also can qualify for SSI benefits.

SSDI vs SSI: How Much Can I Expect to Receive?

The amount that you will receive for SSDI is based on your accumulated work credits, i.e. how much you have paid into the social security system. Therefore, each applicant receives benefits that are dependent on their personal earnings record. Average monthly payments normally range between $1,000 to $1,200, and the maximum amount you can receive per month is $2,687.

With SSI, your monthly benefit amount is calculated based on your income and assets. The SSA offers a base rate of $733 per month for individuals and $1,100 per month for couples who are eligible for SSI. Your monthly countable income is then subtracted from this base rate in order to determine your monthly benefit amount. As of this year, the average amount received by SSI applicants is $542. The maximum amount you can receive is the base federal rate of $735 for individuals and $1,103 for couples.

Can I be Eligible for Both Programs?

In some cases, an applicant can be considered concurrent, which means they are eligible for disability benefits under both SSDI and SSI. If you have sufficient work history and have accumulated enough work credits, you will be eligible for SSDI. In addition, if your income and resources are below the SSI limit, you also may be eligible for SSI. In such situations, you can receive both SSI and SSDI payments at the same time.

However, the amount you receive from both payments cannot be higher than the maximum SSI payment amount. The major benefit of qualifying for both programs is that it can raise a lower SSI amount to reach closer to the maximum payout.

How Do I Apply for SSDI vs SSI?

SSDI applications are available online for all persons. You also can apply for SSDI in person at your local Social Security Administration office or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

SSI applications are available online only for adults with disabilities. Disabled children under 18 and seniors who are 65 or older without a disability must visit their local SSA office to apply. They also can apply via phone.


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